Unions: Bringing Cities To A Halt Is Unacceptable

THE SPECTACLE of tens of thousands of union stooges clogging cities, abusing passers-by and interfering with others going¬†about their business is unacceptable: in Melbourne as elsewhere yesterday, the disruptive and at times almost riotous presence of militant unions — replete with children cynically denied their day at school — seeking to damage a conservative government is an insidious phenomenon whose day has well and truly passed.

The right to protest is one near and near to the collective heart of the Left, and to trouble-making militant unions in particular; just like the movement itself which has failed to evolve into the 21st century, the unions yesterday put on a 1970s-style show of disruption in the name of “peaceful protest” that really ought to have taken place in parks or sports stadiums where it could not interfere with the ability of law-abiding citizens to go about their business and get to their places of work.

Before we go too far, readers can access — depending on preference — coverage from today’s Murdoch or Fairfax press.

This week is one in which I am flat out, as readers will have already deduced from the small number of articles posted; it’s actually a relevant point in context, affected as I was by the chaos and mayhem unleashed in Melbourne yesterday in the name of “workers’ rights.”

And my remarks this morning will be brief.

But what took place in Melbourne — replicated elsewhere across the country with a cavalier disregard for anyone or anything except the obsessive and fanatical objective to destroy a conservative government — was unacceptable, and it is time the streets were insulated from the kind of anarchy and disturbance the smouldering remnants of Australia’s union movement unleashes for political gain at will.

I found myself in the legal precinct in the Melbourne CBD at 9am yesterday on my way to a meeting in Carlton (which is where — for those unfamiliar with Melbourne — the unions’ national seat lies, with Trades Hall and several large, militant unions headquartered within a few blocks of each other).

Even at that hour, the road trip from William Street near the Supreme Court to Drummond Street in Carlton — 3km in total — took 45 minutes, and the cause became obvious as soon as I made it onto Russell Street at the northern edge of the city: unionised workers, thousands of them, obstructing traffic there, on Victoria Street and on Lygon Street, to the extent that even the six-lane thoroughfare of Victoria Street was reduced to one lane in each direction.

Dozens of Police lined the streets, to little effect, and who could criticise them? Members of the union pack strayed at will onto roads, walking in front of cars, and abusing motorists in the most colourful of terms whenever someone remonstrated with them: never mind the fact that these idiots could have been killed, or that motorists did not wish to be responsible for killing them, the clear message was that road users should not have been there at all.

It got worse, of course; late in the morning word filtered through that it was “time” for the union horde to “bring central Melbourne to a halt” by way of a lunchtime protest: the shenanigans in the morning had been preparatory only. The real event was to get underway several hours later.

And so it was, yesterday, in other major urban centres around Australia.

I can speak only from a Melburnian perspective; I think it is an embarrassment and an ugly blight on our majestic city that an insidious marauding band of thugs should be permitted to bring it to its knees and choke the life out of it — if only for half a day, and irrespective of the frequency of such events — in the name of an ambit political agenda.

As I repeatedly noted in social media yesterday, the protest could have happened at Fawkner Park, or at Etihad Stadium, or somewhere else where ordinary decent folk would not have had to look at it or, more to the point, been affected by it.

After all, if some other group of 50,000 people tried to bring Melbourne to a standstill — not least, in furtherance of a political agenda of the Right — its ringleaders and key protagonists would be rounded up and jailed. What in hell entitles and privileges¬†the union movement to differential treatment?

In sharp contrast to this, ACTU chief Dave Oliver took to posting “solidarity selfies” on Twitter.

Ostensibly, the unions were protesting Tony Abbott’s “attack on workers’ rights” which is curious indeed, given the Abbott government has made no attempt at workplace reform, and will not do so without an electoral mandate for explicit proposals arising from the present Productivity Commission review.

Yet the unionists had that covered: the review is a “Trojan Horse” aimed at reviving the Howard government’s WorkChoices program.

Ah, of course. WorkChoices again.

It was also a purported protest over Medicare changes, despite these having been unilaterally abandoned this week by the Abbott government. Perhaps news travels very slowly where unions are concerned.

But the spectacle of hundreds of thugs wearing shirts emblazoned “Fuck Tony Abbott” and wielding banners making similar proclamations is just not on; I noticed several groups of school kids obviously on excursions in the vicinity of the thuggy union pack. How can anyone deign this appropriate?

Not to be outdone, of course, the unions came with a contingent of their own children — cruelly denied a day of the education their leaders rattle on so incessantly about — and these kids carried banners asking that their “futures” were not affected by the Abbott government, and other messages of cynical exploitation foisted upon them by their irresponsible militant parents.

It is always easy to spot a unionist on these occasions; they turn up in their work uniform, a free day off apparently an impost on their employers they have no trouble inflicting on the hand, literally, that feeds them.

And I make that point because very few — if any — “ordinary” folk were in evidence as part of the disruptive farce that played out in Melbourne yesterday.

It’s not as if they are convincing anyone except themselves.

And the only people interested in or motivated by the sort of bullshit propaganda that gets spouted on occasions like yesterday are the perpetrators themselves; one of their ilk tried to tell me that they were performing a public information function, and that their messages were of “information” and “education,” and readers will forgive me for saying so but aside from the gullible and the stupid very few — if any — people are likely to have been “informed” by yesterday’s antics at all.

I would never deny anyone the right to protest.

Even so, the days of “events” like this being allowed to disrupt cities of international stature in the name of making grubby political capital from them are, like the militant union movement itself, a relic of the 1970s that cannot and should not be tolerated.

Public order is a higher imperative than the indulgence of a band of troublemakers who are incapable of articulate expression or of accepting the result of a highly democratic exercise called an election.

Next time, this kind of thing should only be permitted if conducted at a private venue or public space away from key transport, logistical and infrastructure links, chartered by the movement itself, and kept well away from the overwhelming majority who really couldn’t care less for the unions.

Nobody is denying the unions their right to protest. But it is time the shameful spectacle that played out yesterday is consigned to the dustbin of history.

 

Car Crash: Good Riddance To GMH If It Quits Australia

SOME WILL TAKE exception to this article, and so be it; there are reports General Motors has decided to withdraw from automotive manufacturing in Australia by 2016 unless it gets more money from the Abbott government; despite the death knell Holden’s departure would sound for car making in Australia it should get out, and good riddance to it.

The Weekend Australian is reporting that a decision by GMH to close three of its car manufacturing plants internationally was signed off by its headquarters in Detroit last month, but that the official announcement of its withdrawal from Australia has been deferred until after Christmas to allow the company to spread the multi-billion dollar writedowns across its balance sheet.

And that cavalier accounting decision pretty much sums it up.

Of course, the company is denying any such decision has been made; it is said — to quote the Australian — that Holden is being “cut some slack.” But only to allow it to take one final shot at wringing more money out of Australian taxpayers.

Tens of billions of dollars have been gifted to car manufacturers over a period of decades to induce them to maintain operations in Australia, and for what?

Leyland left decades ago, whilst Chrysler/Mitsubishi is also long gone; Ford has already announced it’s going in a couple of years’ time, and the departure of GMH means it will take what’s left of the car making sector in Australia with it: even if Toyota was inclined to remain, a single manufacturer lacks the critical mass to support parts makers, suppliers of accessories, and all the other secondary businesses dependent on the automotive manufacturing industry to remain viable — irrespective of whether it’s subsidised or not.

Commonwealth governments — of both Liberal and ALP varieties, to be clear — have gone to extraordinary lengths to foster and perpetuate a mentality in the car manufacturing industry that demands an ever-increasing “entitlement” to huge amounts of taxpayer money, always with the barely veiled threat of closure held over the government of the day like a gun to its collective head.

And as night follows day, governments have capitulated; it says a lot that a government run by the likes of John Howard and Peter Costello was the worst single culprit for shovelling industry protection and subsidies all over the car makers like confetti.

Yet in a modernising and globalised world, plenty of other industries have either failed, become obsolete, or seen their workforces stripped and relocated to places like Bangladesh, Thailand, or the Philippines; in most cases these failures or mass job losses have been permitted to occur with little intervention from the government sector — even on Labor’s watch — and the handful of times “bailouts” do occur, they are roundly condemned and turned into political footballs by all and sundry.

Australia, to put none too fine a point on it, never really had its “own” car manufacturing sector; every car ever built in this country was made in a factory owned and operated by a foreign multinational. The national chauvinism of protecting “our” car industry is based on a false premise. It is an industry that, structurally, was never profitable in its own right in this country. And in recent years, and as that reality (even propped up by taxpayers) has moved from undeniable to inescapable, one by one the multinationals have closed up and left.

Many people will be screaming at me at this point: the tens of thousands of jobs that stand to be lost if car manufacturing vanishes from Australian shores makes what I am saying truly abominable, reprehensible, amoral. Surely, I should hold my tongue and hang my head in shame?

I would counter with three points.

One, the government isn’t in the business of making cars, and nor should it be; if state-protected car makers fail and/or close, a huge contingent of that displaced workforce will be absorbed by foreign car makers whose sales and service presence in Australia will need to expand to fill the void, and others may be able to reskill to take on other opportunities in the car industry or elsewhere.

Two, all those businesses and industries that have been allowed to fail, or have been superseded, failed to elicit tens of billions of government dollars to prop them up indefinitely: governments may well have been prepared to intervene to protect the jobs of workers in unviable automotive businesses, but in doing so send the terrible signal that those thrown onto the street in businesses and industries that didn’t attract such largesse were — and are — that little bit less valuable.

And three, those who make the most noise about “protecting jobs and conditions of working Australians” — unions — bear the largest single share of the responsibility for the car makers ultimately being unable to remain commercially feasible, even with billions of dollars raked out of taxpayer-funded drain pipes: unionised workforces, especially in the car sector, may indeed enjoy high real wages, penalty rates, allowances, loadings, bonuses, and blah blah blah…but in the end, they price themselves out of the market.

I suggest all readers have a look at this programme, viewing a three-minute segment commencing at the 39:30 mark: the speaker is Sir Keith Joseph, Industry minister under Margaret Thatcher, and the segment is illustrative of my point. Joseph is talking about unionised British state monopolies in the 1970s such as British Steel, although in the wider context of this programme there is an indirect link to Australian car manufacturing through British Leyland, which withdrew from Australia as a direct result of the exact phenomenon I am talking about — the unionised workforce had, in Joseph’s words, “priced itself out of the market.”

The logical end consequence of any trade union that is successful in prosecuting its stated objective of advancing pay and conditions of its constituent worker group is that the business which pays those ever-increasing demands must fail; so it is in the automotive sector (but again, we could just as easily be talking about, say, QANTAS — and barring unforeseens, in the next couple of days, we will be).

Of course, the automotive sector has received much, much more assistance to skew the market in its favour than a mere endless funnel of taxpayer cash.

Government car fleets lavish preferment on the local car making industry; sometimes with exclusive supply contracts, sometimes with hefty “local manufacture” quotas, but in any case relegating considerations of value for money very much to the status of a secondary concern.

It receives further protection by way of tariffs and import duties being applied to automotive imports.

And those imported cars are further disadvantaged in the market by a luxury car tax that cuts in at a ridiculously low value, currently just over $60,000; taking into account the fact that you can spend close to that on a new Commodore with a couple of options attached to it, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognise this tax as just another protectionist measure to distort new car sales in favour of so-called local manufacturers.

Remove the tariffs, the import duties, the luxury car tax, and open the option of bulk government purchasing and leasing to include offshore manufacturers, and Australians will be well-served in a car market offering choice, at reasonable price points, and for vehicles built to suitable safety standards.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott was absolutely correct in his position prior to the September election to refuse any additional handouts to the car manufacturing industry beyond the $500 million already on the table between now and 2017; by contrast, The Weekend Australian notes that Holden’s stay of proceedings insofar as closing its Adelaide plant is concerned is made with the aspiration to realise eventual “annual ‘rent’ payments” to continue operations, and that aspiration should be met with the contempt it deserves.

This has gone on quite long enough; if automotive manufacturing dies out in this country during the Liberal Party’s tenure in office it will be no fault of the Abbott government: indeed, the removal of this particular market distortion, and the accompanying correction it would have forced on the labour market, should have occurred years ago.

The GMH decision, in any case, was made before the new government even jumped out of the barrier.

And short of nationalising the industry, it is doubtful the government could do anything other than stave off the inevitable — with buckets more cash — if it wanted to.

I understand that there is a lot of misty-eyed sentimentality around this issue: after all, a Holden was “Australia’s First Car” back in 1948, and like any legend allowed to grow and evolve, this one took on a life of its own — captivating millions of enthusiasts along the way.

In the final analysis, however, Holden was always a branch office of an American multinational, and General Motors has added precisely nothing to Australia for many years; even now, at five minutes to midnight, it still has its hand out, saying “I want” and “give me” to a new government elected on a platform of ending freebies for car makers.

General Motors — along with all the other foreign rent seekers in the car industry looking to use the Australian taxpayer to prop up businesses that by rights should have ceased to exist years ago — should now peddle their extortionate demands somewhere else, and good riddance to them when they leave our shores to do so.

Weekend Viewing Ahead Of Discussion On Industry Protection

IN READYING to write an article on the imminent departure of General Motors from Australian automotive manufacturing, it has taken some time to locate a tiny piece of footage I wish to use; today I post with some excellent viewing for readers to enjoy over the coming weekend, with the discussion on Holden to follow shortly.

I think we are about to open a subject that will feature prominently over the next few years: that of “subsidies” for Australia’s car manufacturing sector, which I believe is a curtain-raiser to the wider issue of protectionist economics in 21st century Australia from an overall perspective.

And I intend — in this column — to cover both the issues of the moment as they arise, as well as commencing a discussion about the bigger problem of tariffs, subsidies, and other market-distorting forms of protectionist activity and how, in the longer run, they damage Australia’s economy and cost this country and the people in it far more than any good intended of them.

In short, tearing a scab off a pustulous wound. The first cab off the rank — as soon as tomorrow — will be Holden, which will announce it will cease building cars in Australia, possibly before I even have time to write the intended article on it.

In truth, I would be posting that discussion now; it has, however, taken a couple of hours’ searching for a brief segment of video that I wish to use in that article, and it seems obvious to share not just the programme it is to be quoted from, but the series in its entirety — and a little extra material as well.

It will surprise few that on this subject I’m influenced to a degree by Thatcherite policy doctrines; not those of Thatcher herself, but those of the figures who most influenced her own economic philosophies — in this case, a British politician, intellectual and statesman, Sir Keith Joseph.

And it follows therefore that the material I am posting here today is of the Thatcher era: a series of documentaries on Margaret’s time in office, up to her departure from Downing Street in late 1990.

The problem in tracking this stuff down is that the only copy I have at home is a 20-year-old VHS copy, made at the time of the series’ release in 1994; a DVD copy made some years ago apparently failed to survive a residential move.

YouTube to the rescue: readers can view the episodes sequentially here, here, here and here. Each runs for an hour, so — as I said — it might be a case of weekend viewing. My thanks to Thatcheritescot (himself an occasional commenter in this column) for posting these videos on YouTube for public review.

Whilst only a three-minute segment will be quoted in the first anti-protectionism article I’ve got coming — focused on Holden — I do still think many viewers will get something out of watching the programmes included in these links; they give a fair but critical assessment of Thatcher’s time in office, with extremely generous access provided by those of her colleagues who were surviving at the time the documentaries were made.

Of course, Lady Thatcher herself — along with many of the former Thatcher cabinet ministers appearing in these videos — have since passed on.

For those not familiar with Keith Joseph or his writings at all…where do we start on that topic? The man was a colossus, towering above most of his contemporaries in the intellectual sense, and viewed posthumously his legacy shames most of those who pass for political leaders nowadays on the Left or the Right, in the UK, or in Australia (and further afield) too, for that matter.

There is a reasonable memorial lecture viewers may like to view here, although as I said Joseph is a formidable subject in his own right…we could be here for days or weeks just discussing Joseph!

As I said at the outset, this post is simply to get some material for readers to view if they choose in advance of a post on Holden in the next day or two.

If this kind of material is valuable/stimulating/useful/of topical interest to readers, let me know by way of comment — I am happy to include more such reference material in this column if the demand for it among the readership is there.

 

Congratulations And Best Wishes To Dave Oliver At The ACTU

This may surprise a few people, but I have always been a firm believer in giving credit where it is due; in this spirit I would like to wish Dave Oliver my heartiest congratulations on his appointment as the new ACTU secretary, and to wish him all the very best.

At a time of chronically falling union membership, decreasing relevance to the majority of wage and salary earners in this country, and poor public advertisements such as the present Health Services Union/Craig Thomson fiasco, Australia’s unions have fewer and fewer representatives to whom people generally are prepared to listen, and take note of.

To this end, the assumption by ACTU secretary Dave Oliver of his new role is to be welcomed, and it is hoped it may be a pointer to a more constructive role for the trade union membership in the broad workplace relations agenda, and in society generally.

I met Oliver a couple of years ago, when he was the head of the AMWU in Melbourne, by virtue of what was at the time my day job in advertising; whilst there are obviously elements of his politics and agenda to which I am completely and implacably opposed — and, no doubt, of mine to him — I was very impressed by what I had seen.

My take on Dave Oliver is that he is no fool; and whilst he can be expected to be a formidable advocate for the interests of union members across the country, it is my view that in appointing him the ACTU has uncovered a decent and fair operator who will be tough and blunt, but considerate of other viewpoints and fair in his dealings.

I have been particularly encouraged by what he has had to say in relation to the fracas going on around the HSU; it is to be hoped that this ethical and no-nonsense perspective will find its way into union operations across the spectrum of the ACTU’s constituent bodies, and across Australia.

I would also hope Oliver’s tenure will coincide with a modernisation of union practices and governance to bring them into line with what might be expected by law of comparable corporate enterprises.

Whilst clearly a political opponent in many ways, I believe Dave Oliver is also someone a future conservative government may be able to do business with; it remains to be seen as to whether that is so, but it is possible — with an appropriate approach from both sides — to achieve constructive and meaningful outcomes for both sides of the industrial relations debate, and I look forward to observing how this process pans out.

I also hope his tenure will lead to the reset on the union side in the way it conducts its business so many — including rank-and-file union members — seek, and that the sort of thing we are presently witnessing on a daily basis at the HSU will become a thing of the past.

But for today, I simply wish to offer Dave Oliver my sincerest congratulations and good wishes on his new role; and I will watch with great interest — to use the vernacular — to see how he goes.

Qantas Dispute: Now We Wait

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).

The Qantas Issue: Something Has To Happen. Now!

I never — never — thought I would see the day that I’d advocate government intervention in an industrial dispute. But it’s here; the Gillard government must sort out the mess at Qantas, and quickly. The government needs to sort out the mess its own dumb laws created.

News this afternoon that Qantas is grounding its entire fleet in the face of the industrial action it is confronted with means that one of three things now happens: the unions back down, the government orders them back to work, or Qantas goes out of business.

Qantas management is unlikely to back down, and nor should it; the demands it faces from its unions are ridiculous.

Clearly, the time for screwing around and causing trouble for the sake of it is over.

But a finger needs to be pointed at the ALP and the current federal government which, ultimately, is responsible for the mess by creating the circumstances in which this could occur in the first place.

The Rudd/Gillard government, as we all know, came to power in 2007 with little real mandate (aside from slogans like “Education Revolution”) other than to undo the WorkChoices legislation enacted by the Howard government.

But rather than simply repeal those amendments to the Workplace Relations Act, it went further, and created the most pro-union legislative environment in nearly thirty years.

And that environment has come back to bite — at least insofar as the dispute at Qantas is concerned.

It was only a matter of time before someone in the union movement tried it on, and — a little surprisingly — it’s been the aviation unions.

Between the raft of protected strike action provisions conveniently afforded by the Fair Work Act, and its general allowance of a return to pattern bargaining, unions are holding Qantas to ransom by simply refusing to budge an inch on their stated — and generally unreasonable — demands.

Those demands include pay rises of 15% over three years; well above inflation, and on top of the already-generous pay conditions they enjoy compared to engineering staff at other airlines.

Compared to engineering staff at Virgin Blue for that matter, too, with which the very same unions made a deal that saw their members earn considerably less than their brethren over at Qantas.

Those demands include conditions for contractors being made the same as those of their members who are employees of the airline, and that includes guarantees of job security — something which, by their very nature, a contractor can’t be given.

And those demands include guarantees of job security generally for union members who are employees of Qantas well beyond what is reasonable to expect any employer to provide; not least in light of the restructuring that is to commence at Qantas and the changes to its labour requirements such a restructure will necessitate.

The unions also say their campaign is designed to ensure Qantas remains a fully Australian-based airline and that they will “fight” moves to relocate operations and/or jobs to bases in Asian countries.

Never mind that management runs Qantas — not the unions some of its staff belong to.

Now that Qantas management is parking its planes on tarmacs around the world, let’s look at what is at stake and what the lie of the land really is.

Qantas International is already running at a heavy loss; the figure (depending on the source) is between $150 million and $220 million each year.

Yes, the other arms of the business are holding the overall entity in profit; last financial year the Qantas Group posted nett profit of some $550 million. But any business with a division haemorrhaging $200 million-odd per year has a serious underlying problem that requires urgent redress before it infects and drags down the remainder of the company.

The aviation industry is one of the most sensitive in the world to shocks on the cost side; terrorism, economic downturn, rises in the price of oil, plane crashes, government policies and taxes, and supply issues generally are all items on a much longer list of factors that can destroy airline businesses and send them into history.

Qantas has thus far made one major, major strategic blunder in its fight with its unions: the rather large pay rise its board endorsed yesterday for Chief Executive Officer Alan Joyce.

Not a good look, not smart timing, and damned silly tactically.

Still, the airline has lost $68 million so far from the present protracted industrial dispute, a figure widely accepted by economists, industry analysts, and aviation industry journalists.

It probably wasn’t smart for the unions, yesterday, to assert that this $68 million had been spent “on advertising.”

Indeed, it was probably the final wave of the red flag at the bull.

The 15% pay rise claim over three years mightn’t be so obscene if it weren’t for the fact that many of the engineering staff in question are already paid several times the average weekly wage of about $60,000 per year; factor in that the claim is for double the inflation rate, pressures in the aviation industry generally and problems in segments of the Qantas business specifically, and it’s outrageous.

One of the things Qantas management has said in the course of this dispute is that its engineers want to hold jobs and to be paid for maintenance work that no longer exists.

A process which has already — and belatedly — started is the retirement of Boeing 747-400s, Boeing 767-300s and older Boeing 737-400s from the Qantas fleet.

These planes represent half of the 200-odd units in the Qantas fleet, and those retiring planes have an average age of 20 years.

They are being replaced with brand new Airbus A380s, Boeing 737-800s, and the soon-to-be-introduced Boeing 787 Dreamliner — all of which will require little heavy maintenance for 6-9 years.

That’s the market law of supply and demand; if Qantas doesn’t need to maintain the workforce it has because fleet renewal makes positions redundant, it has no obligation to keep staff on its books just to be nice.

On the other side of the coin, the skills these engineering people have are not only prized, but sought around the world; indeed, given the exponential growth in the aviation industry expected in the next 20 years — not least in the Asia-Pacific region — those portable skills offer licensed engineers and other engineering professionals the opportunity to work across the world.

Not, perhaps, in Australia, at least not in the immediate future; and not, indeed, in a regime where they can regularly tell their boss — to put it indelicately — to bend over.

They wouldn’t get away with it in Dubai or Singapore, for example.

And any industrial claim to put contractors on the same level of entitlements as permanent, long-term employees is so offensive (and abusive of process) that it doesn’t warrant or merit response.

Any airline business operating today needs to find cost savings; it’s the nature of the industry, the world over.

It’s why half the airlines in the US are in government bankruptcy protection; it’s why, for example, airlines in the UK (one of which Alan Joyce once ran) are looking at things like charging for use of toilets, or silly ideas like flying twice as many people standing up to maximise flight yields.

None of this has even been hinted at in Australia.

But if the price of maintaining Qantas as the Spirit of Australia (or, indeed, the living spirit of anything) involves some operations in Asian countries, then that’s better than the alternative.

Indeed, former CASA head Dick Smith — who ought to know about these things — was broadcast on Melbourne radio today, saying that if the current industrial action against Qantas doesn’t stop, the airline will either go broke or become a purely domestic carrier.

Just think about that…if Qantas goes broke, 40,000 people instantly lose their jobs; and air travel in Australia becomes something you save up for over a period of months or years like it was 15-20 years ago.

I can remember saving for six months for my first airfare from Brisbane to Melbourne as an 18-year-old in 1990…some people couldn’t even afford to do that.

This dispute is already affecting hundreds of thousands of travellers; it is placing tourism-based businesses under great strain; it is diluting what inbound international traffic is still coming here despite the high dollar and economic problems abroad; and it is impacting businesses across the country who require access to reliable air travel at short notice in the daily course of their operations.

And were the end result simply to be that Qantas became a purely domestic operation, every foreign carrier would look at us here, and say to anyone wanting to fly much further than Auckland or Bali — again — to bend over. The price of flights would rocket.

The economic damage to Australia of a partial or full collapse of Qantas would be horrific.

This isn’t Ansett, where a poorly run (and much smaller) parent company presided over a subsidiary in which management standards were abysmal and aircraft maintenance, service bulletins and compulsory fleet inspections were routinely and systematically ignored.

No, this is a business being held to ransom by a militant, unionised minority, endangering the whole business in the process, and potentially inflicting incalculable economic damage on Australia generally if it all goes pear-shaped.

It’s well-known that as a rule I’m generally contemptuous of unions, largely as a result of the type of thuggery and bastardry we’re seeing played out here.

But from a philosophical point of view I think workers are entitled to this type of representation if they want it — provided the organisations offering that representation don’t abuse it.

And they are here.

Completing the circle, Julia Gillard and her government need to intervene in this immediately.

It is ALP-sponsored law that has emboldened the unions down this path, and it is now incumbent on the government to shut this down.

It goes against every fibre of my being to advocate a government intervention, but in this case the government is as much at fault as the unions trying to put Qantas over a barrel are.

Neither side is perfect, but on a “points decision” or balance of probabilities or whatever euphemism you like, Qantas is right and the unions are wrong.

Now it’s grounded.

The longer it stays on the ground, the more it will cost the economy generally; and if this isn’t cleared up quickly — and once and for all — there’s a real danger of vast and permanent damage not just to the Australian economy, but to international confidence in Australia.

And that’s a hell of a price to pay for union thugs trying to hang “the boss” out to dry.

Shut it down, Julia.

This is a chance for the Prime Minister to deliver something other than rhetoric, or policies people despise and never voted for.

It’s time for the Labor Party to put the labour movement in its place. For the national good.

And for God’s sake, be quick about it…

Striking Out: Union Thuggery And Industrial Bastardry At Qantas

If anyone really wonders why unions face dwindling membership in this country, or why trade unions are increasingly held in such low regard by the Australian public, look no further than the disgusting antics of elements associated with the unions involved with Qantas.

For those who’ve been in Antarctica on safari for a while, there’s a pay dispute going on over at Qantas: a big one.

The unions want a 15% pay rise over three years, and various guarantees relating to the job security of their members (many of whom are contractors, not employees), whilst maintaining a weather eye on a coming restructure that could see hundreds of jobs made redundant.

Management says they can’t afford to meet the claim, citing tough conditions internationally for airlines generally, and pressures on Qantas specifically such as the price of oil, competition from airlines operating from countries with far lower labour costs, and so forth.

(And before anyone mentions the $500 million-odd profit it made last financial year, just remember Qantas is embarking on an overdue renewal of most of its ageing fleet at a capital cost of several billion dollars, which is where most of those profits will go for the next five to ten years).

On the one hand, I understand the unionists want a pay rise.

On the other, I understand that Qantas, like most businesses with an eye on costs, is baulking and — like many airlines around the world — is operating in a difficult economic environment.

And so the stoush has played out: in private, in public, behind closed doors in meeting rooms, and on the front page of the country’s newspapers, for months.

And it has affected the travelling public: literally dozens of Qantas flights have been delayed or cancelled, disrupting the travel plans of thousands of people, as a result of industrial action.

And that’s notwithstanding the fact that on some occasions the unions have cancelled their planned stoppages for certain reasons; for example, to minimise disruptions at the end of recent school holiday periods in some states.

The subtext of the dispute essentially boils down to this: the unions are floating the spectre of overseas maintenance as linked to substandard workmanship and a safety risk, combined with what they say are the best interests of their members; Qantas denies the safety accusations and says it is simply prepared to pay what it can afford.

Being fair, the arguments on both sides have some merit, and the actual reality most likely lies somewhere in the middle.

And aside from the fact that most of us will lean toward the position of either the airline or the union, from an overall perspective, so far so good: it’s the typical argy-bargy of a collectivist bargaining campaign by a union against a large industrial employer.

There’s where it gets ugly.

Really, really ugly.

Revelations that senior Qantas executives — including its Chief Executive Officer, Alan Joyce — have received death threats in the context of the current negotiations are appalling.

The threat received by the Irish-born Mr Joyce referred to him as “foreign filth” and “Paddy” (not his name, clearly) is both repugnant and an oxymoron; it ignores the fact many of Australia’s largest and best companies are run by foreign-born executives, and it ignores the fact that many Australian nationals run (or have run) comparable foreign companies.

Would these people have described Sir Rod Eddington as “foreign filth” on account of his time at the helm of Cathay Pacific or British Airways?

What I think is even worse is the fact that Qantas workers who have opted not to take part in strike action have been harassed and bastardised: stories that the houses of workers refusing to strike have been damaged, or their car windows smashed in retaliation for turning up to work, are disgraceful.

And these non-striking workers have — predictably enough — been denounced within the rank-and-file workforce as scabs, traitors, dogs, and so forth.

The type of language that everybody expected from militant unions 30-odd years ago.

As someone philosophically distrustful of unions in any way, and politically opposed to the leftist nature of most unions’ agenda, I am prepared to take at face value the statements of some of the transport unions’ leaders and especially those of the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association federal secretary, Steve Purvinas.

These are hard men who drive a hard bargain; indeed, so hard the airline is calling their bluff and the travelling public is now beginning to bear the brunt.

Purvinas emphasises that he and his executive have implored their members to “play it legally” on the basis their demands were mostly met last time this situation arose and his members did not break the law.

And Purvinas himself is a reasonable bloke.

This points to elements in his ranks that he can’t control and who may never be conclusively be identified.

Death threats don’t appear out of thin air; car windows don’t spontaneously shatter; houses don’t self-immolate.

I’m reminded a bit of Arthur Scargill’s leadership of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in Britain in the early 1980s; Scargill was a thug and a brute whereas I trust Purvinas is neither, but there the differences end.

Scargill called his miners out on strike without a ballot; Purvinas’ members got one. In both cases, those workers refusing to strike were vilified, bastardised, and terrorised.

Indeed, some of Scargill’s minions were so enraged that “scabs and traitors” should dare to cross picket lines and go to work that they started murdering them — literally.

And does anyone remember the notorious Builders’ Labourers Federation (BLF), run by the late Norm Gallagher, and which was deregistered by the Thompson Liberal government (Vic) and the Fraser Liberal government (federal) in part due to systematic illegal and violent conduct?

The problem someone like Steve Purvinas — a salty, straight-shooting, and generally honest bloke — has is that as much as he has faith in “his men” he can’t control them.

And so from the protracted and increasingly checkmated industrial dispute between Qantas and its unions, the uglier side of the union mentality has reappeared out in the ranks.

It’s not good enough to dismiss these events as the conduct of a rogue element or misguided few; they go to the heart of the culture of the union itself.

If Alan Joyce — publicly or privately — were to let it be known that unions were filth, and that consorting with unionists would result in significant damage to the property or person of those daring to associate with “union filth,” the outcry — and uproar — would rightly be horrendous.

So with the boot on the other foot, let’s call a spade a spade.

The conduct of unionists in the case of the industrial dispute with Qantas is despicable.

It makes no difference whether the union case is sound or not — threats of violence and intimidation supersede any case that may be put.

And it makes no difference whence the threat comes from: Purvinas and other transport union leaders like him may be responsible for their men, but it is a regrettable fact of human nature that they can’t control them all.

The unions in the Qantas case, therefore, do themselves no favours.

They do, however, strike at the core of what damaged credibility their individual unions — and the union movement in this country generally — retain in the eyes of the Australian public.

Little wonder only about 15% of Australians belong to a union these days, as opposed to about 50% 35 years ago, if this is the example the unions set.

What do you think?