A short while ago Qantas CEO, Alan Joyce, explained to Alan Kohler on the ABC’s Inside Business program how the grounding decision had been intended to make the dissenting unions feel the same pain as the company and had brought ‘certainty’ to its passengers.
Joyce denied that Qantas brought on its pre-planned action to force the government to refer the matter to Fair Work Australia, which resumes last night’s emergency hearing at 2 pm.
“It was the only way we could make the unions sit down with us,” Joyce said. “Up until then [the grounding] the pain was all on one side, and now the pain will be on both sides.”
But the pain appears to be more widespread than that. Asked about the 80,000 or more Qantas customers who have also been locked out of the airline throughout Australia and world wide, Joyce said this was preferable to their experiencing dislocation for the next year.
He said the grounding would bring ‘certainty’ to Qantas customers, and said the airlines business travellers had strongly endorsed its taking firm action, contradicting his statement yesterday that ‘valuable business traveller bookings’ on east coast routes had fallen 25% in recent weeks.
These are odd terms to use from the perspective of the 80,000 passengers Qantas stranded with no prior warning yesterday given that their world is that of today, and now, and not that of impersonal accounting constructs.
The Transport Minister Anthony Albanese noted yesterday that he found it extraordinary that the Australian government was only given three hours notice of the grounding of the national flag carrier.
Joyce said that as a consequence of the government’s decision to ask Fair Work Australia to intervene in the three union disputes, the company had applied last night for FWA to order a termination of all industrial action, which would cause a 21 day period for negotiations to take place at the end of which the tribunal could make a binding arbitration in the absence of an agreed outcome between the parties.
But he repeated that Qantas had not sought such intervention, and had always intended to lockout the employees involved to bring ‘certainty’ to its customers, a word that might seem to have a different meaning to those it has stranded.
In the media campaigning that the unions and company have undertaken this morning, Richard Woodward the vice president of the Qantas pilot union said he believed Qantas had broken the law in also locking out its short haul domestic pilots, who are not involved in industrial action.
“Those pilots are attached to what is supposed to be the most profitable part of the Qantas business” he said. “Their current agreement with Qantas is not up for renegotiation until next year.
Ben Sandilands has reported and analysed the mechanical mobility of humanity since late 1960 - the end of the age of great scheduled ocean liners and coastal steamers and the start of the jet age. He’s worked in newspapers, radio and TV in a wide range of roles as a journalist at home and abroad for 56 years, the last 18 freelance.