Pursuant to my post last night, both the Gillard Government and Qantas have made application to Fair Work Australia for a termination of all industrial action in the matter of Qantas’ dispute with three of its unions.
The unions, in turn, have sought a suspension — “most likely” according to reports close to the proceedings until just after Christmas.
I’ve monitored coverage of this issue in the last 24 hours extremely closely; opinion in the mainstream media seems divided fairly evenly between favouring the union position or the Qantas position, as is reaction from directly affected people at airports around the world.
We’ll come back to that.
Fair Work Australia, having sat late into the night last night, resumed its hearings in this matter at 2pm AEDT today (3am GMT) and we wait with breath that is bated for a decision.
In the meantime, there are a few issues I want to address.
- The Gillard government didn’t even use the right clause of its own Act in its application to Fair Work Australia; it has come to light today that a Ministerial Declaration terminating the action could have been issued; instead, the Government application was made under a different clause that allowed up to five days for a determination to be made. Given its desired outcome and the economic consequences of the alternative, the incompetence of the government — yet again — is on clear display.
- Qantas management has stated today that the shutdown in operations is designed to bring the dispute with its unions to a head. I’m inclined to sympathise; the rolling strikes and industrial stoppages — some bordering on wildcat action — have been going on for months, and to continue is clearly in the interests of nobody associated with the issue.
- TWU head Tony Sheldon appeared on the ABC’s 7.30 programme tonight, with the laughably misleading (but factually correct) claim that the campaign of the unions has thus far resulted in eight days of stoppages. That’s technically true, but many times in recent months, the unions have cancelled other scheduled industrial action at the last minute, after contingency plans (and flight cancellations) were already set in motion. Mr Sheldon, your eight days in effect better resembles two weeks.
- Much has been made today of the pay rise Qantas CEO Alan Joyce received at Friday’s shareholders’ meeting, and quite rightly so. In my view, as I intimated last night, it was an act of corporate idiocy to announce that one day and to ground the airline the next. But that doesn’t alter every other aspect of this dispute, which boils down to union greed and industrial bastardry.
- And, last, much has been made of the grounding of the Qantas fleet being a “premeditated act.” Well…Qantas says it had advice that a lockout was an option open to it, and to action it would never have been a decision made in five minutes flat. It would have been canvassed with Qantas’ economists, industry analysts, lobbyists and PR people at the minimum. If Qantas took ten days as some reports suggest to arrive at a decision to ground its fleet, then as far as I’m concerned Qantas has treated the matter with great care and diligence.
Returning to the experiences of directly affected travellers, it’s understandable their feedback is as varied as has been played out in today’s media coverage.
Some say they have been well looked after by Qantas, and some are scathing; some are philosophical whilst others are angry and/or upset.
My view is that Qantas probably took the best of a small number of equally unpalatable options by grounding its fleet.
This has already dragged on for months (and already disrupted tens of thousands of booked-and-paid airline travellers).
There was no guarantee, and no prospect, of any meaningful resolution other than Qantas management caving into union demands.
For reasons we have previously discussed on this site, caving in was no option.
A few days’ disruption now, rather than another year of industrial espionage by the unions (and a question mark growing over the viability of the airline), however unpleasant or inconvenient, would seem the best choice from a bad hand of options.
OK, it wreaks havoc on the Spring Racing Carnival here in Melbourne, but is there ever a good time to do these things?
Last month it was school holidays. Next month it’ll be nearing school holidays again, and Christmas, and New Year…
…and if the unions’ application for a suspension of action rather than a termination were to succeed, there’s no guarantee this crap wouldn’t simply resurface around Easter and Anzac Day.
Interestingly, I saw Dave Oliver — National Secretary of the AMWU, a union not involved in the dispute at Qantas — at the Fair Work Australia hearings, in media coverage of the dispute today across multiple media outlets.
I’ve met Dave and I think he’s a pretty good bloke, but in this case I’d wonder if the presence of such a senior AMWU figure — in a dispute the AMWU has nothing to do with in a direct sense — is indicative of a more co-ordinated union campaign against large employers in Australia, with Qantas being the bunny and the guinea pig.
It would certainly lend weight to my observation in last night’s post that “someone” was bound to try it on, under the Fair Work Australia regime, and that (surprisingly) it was the aviation unions who got in first.
The Qantas dispute involves the TWU, the AIPA, and the ALAEA…if anyone can see the AMWU in this list, please let me know so I can make an appointment at the optometrist.
But for now…we wait. I’d held off posting tonight because there were indications Fair Work Australia might have handed down a decision prior to this, but at 11.50pm (AEDT) I think it’s time to say we’re going to have to wait until tomorrow.
Keep your comments coming (and use the blog site if you can…no emails…let’s keep the discussion in one place).