Qantas: a lesson in how unions should hit back
The Qantas lockout is now over, and company and unions have been given 21 days to negotiate a new deal before compulsory arbitration kicks in. But the war of words continues, and ACTU President Ged Kearney has written a brilliant open letter to Qantas CEO (‘$5m dollar man’ Alan Joyce) setting out what every trade unionist in Australia (and many outside) would like to have written, on this or any other dispute. It is vitally important, as several media outlets call this one for the company, for unions to get their point of view across.
And, as Prime Minister Julia Gillard (below) and stranded passengers quoted by the BBC make clear, Ged isn’t the only Australian to feel strongly about Qantas’ bullish, bullying bravado.
Ged’s text is worth reading as a primer in how to argue a union case, and it’s difficult to single out any particular part of Ged’s speech, so do read it all, but here’s a flavour:
Unions must give 72 hours notice before stoppages. We accept this, and sometimes give longer notice, because we recognise that they are a last resort and have effects on customers and the employees involved.
Your decision to stop flights immediately was the management equivalent of a wildcat strike. It was an act of petulance and contempt for workers, for the industrial relations system and for passengers.
Here’s what the Prime Minister had to say:
Qantas on Friday was talking about continuing to negotiate this dispute. On Saturday it made the decision to strand tens of thousands of passengers around Australia and around the world. It needs to take some responsibility publicly for that decision.
Ex-pat Australian Sharan Burrow, now ITUC General Secretary, had this to add:
The decision to ground the airline without notice was bizarre and extremely damaging to the company’s reputation and the country’s economy. It is fortunate that Australia has an industrial relations tribunal with sufficient power to reverse that decision, and force the company into proper talks with the unions representing its workforce.