Armed with the day off and the curiosity of a cat, I drove out to Melbourne Airport this afternoon to watch Qantas’ return to the skies, starting with a flight to Sydney — QF438, operated by Boeing 737-800 VH-VXI — which took off a little after 4pm.
Clearly the issues affecting Qantas in its dispute are far from finalised; indeed, there’s life in this story yet. But it seems that with the return to service of the Qantas mainline operation today, at least one chapter in the book draws to a close.
And of course — given The Red And The Blue is primarily concerned with Australian politics, it’s reasonable to assume other issues will present for discussion, although I will certainly be continuing to follow developments at Qantas and discussing these as indicated.
It’s with some apprehension and disappointment that I heard today that the TWU is considering appealing the decision to terminate all industrial action handed down by Fair Work Australia in the small hours of yesterday morning in Melbourne.
Such a move would hardly be made in good faith; whilst I loathe the idea of government intervention in industrial disputes (and said so here on Saturday) this is an exceptional case.
The intervention was warranted (however hamfistedly it was made) and the resulting process should be approached in good faith by all parties — including the TWU.
Grounding the Qantas fleet, quite obviously, was a measure undertaken to engineer (no pun intended) a resolution of the conflict with the three unions involved in this dispute.
I would have thought those unions would have welcomed the opportunity to finally, and belatedly, put these matters to bed.
But it seems the TWU at least isn’t happy that its ability to lead Qantas on a merry dance (and cause all sorts of disruptions in the process) has met with an abrupt end.
It seems the concepts of finally agreeing to a resolution, or of having an independent industrial umpire impose one, are not that union’s cup of tea.
Which is probably not much of a surprise when it is remembered that 20 years ago, the TWU played a pivotal role in the crippling tram strike in Melbourne that, quite literally, brought the city to a standstill, and which at the time was held up by anti-unionists across the country as a festering, rancid example of everything that was wrong with trade unions in Australia.
I don’t propose to go through the minutiae of the ruling by Fair Work Australia, although I gather there is a spirited debate going on between some of my readers in the “Comments” section of the previous articles I’ve posted regarding this issue.
But I do want, briefly, to talk about the Commission’s point that the industrial action undertaken by the unions, on its own, would have been unlikely to have been grounds for Qantas to obtain termination of those actions on “national interest” grounds.
Clearly, the planes had to be grounded for that to happen.
But virtually nobody involved in this dispute — including most of the union players — denies that Qantas has been losing money as a result of the protracted saga that has been played out.
One of the reasons I’ve been so quick to point the finger at the unions involved as ultimately responsible for the entire fracas is that they seem to think Qantas is a bottomless, endless pit of money.
I have also been emphatic that the pay rise given to Qantas CEO Alan Joyce on Friday was sheer stupidity in the context of everything else that has been going on.
The industrial action that has been undertaken against Qantas over the past nine months has cost it money; its international operation lost some $200 million last financial year; and a hefty portion of its fleet is in urgent and desperate need of replacement at a cost of some $10-$12 billion over the next five years.
Viewed that way, the pre-tax profit Qantas made overall last financial year of $500 million doesn’t look like a mountain of money given the capital expenses and structural problems the airline faces.
It underlines the lunacy of the Joyce pay rise.
And it means there is a limit to what the unions can “get.”
Were Qantas to go broke and follow Ansett into history, there would be no boss to screw, no pay rise to manipulate, no passengers to hold to ransom, no job security for rather obvious reasons, and no airline.
It’s true that Qantas has flagged possible retrenchment of up to 1,000 jobs in its coming restructure.
But the airline must change if it is to survive, and that change, inevitably, will hurt some people. But the overwhelming majority of its operations and staff will remain Australian-based, and whilst nobody likes job losses or firing people (and at times along the journey, in different roles, I’ve both lost my job and had to fire staff in the past), even if 1,000 jobs are lost, 34,000 Qantas jobs will continue.
I’m highly critical of the federal government’s handling of this matter: faced with Qantas’ high-stakes move in the dispute to ground the fleet, its own Fair Work Act equipped it with the power to circumvent the stoppage and issue a ministerial directive terminating all action on both sides and ordering the involved parties to conciliation and — if necessary — arbitration.
Instead, it acted under a different section of the Act, which meant the grounding — and the consequent chaos suffered by passengers around the world — ensued.
Having kicked that colossal own goal, it’s completely unacceptable for Julia Gillard and her ministers to now blame Qantas for causing the disruption in the first place; not least because the same outcome — conciliation and arbitration — has been reached, only with a lot more heartache in the process.
Once again, the incompetence of the federal Labor government has been writ large for all to see; this time, on this issue, it couldn’t even use its own laws properly; and this time, there’s not a Green or an Independent in sight onto whom responsibility can (or ought) be dumped.
And Qantas — a large Australian company and employer of 35,000 people — has endured the industrial mischief of some of its unions for the past nine months and took what it saw as the only measure open to it to resolve matters once and for all.
My hope now is that the four parties involved — Qantas and the three unions involved in the stoush — will recognise that a line needs to be drawn, and that they enter the conciliation process in the next few weeks in good faith and strike what should be a relatively straightforward deal in which everyone gets some of what they want, but nobody gets everything, and in which all parties have to give a little ground to make the whole damned thing go away.
On a final note, during the few hours I was at Tullamarine Airport this afternoon, I left the passenger terminal to have a cigarette; there were two Qantas workers there smoking also who belong to one of the unions involved in the dispute.
Eavesdropping (as you do when people standing right next to you don’t care who hears what they say) I ascertained that their view — and presumably those of their colleagues — was that given Alan Joyce had the termination order he sought, their union bosses would cave in to Qantas management (and sell everyone out).
Is it any wonder each side in the dispute has so little faith in the other, if that’s the way the union workers feel about their own union bosses, let alone about Qantas…
As I said, we’ll follow this and discuss it further as need be.
Keep the comments and opinions coming; and for the (vast, vast) majority of you who haven’t commented, please be assured that posting comments under a pseudonym will keep your privacy — and anonymity — intact.