Qantas Accused of Misleading MPs on Workforce Lockout

Release date: 1/06/2012

Qantas executives discussed locking out the airline workforce two weeks before the company grounded its fleet last year, prompting union claims last night that the airline had misled federal parliament.

Ewin Hannan,The Australian 

Gareth Evans, the airline's chief financial officer, told Fair Work Australia that the airline's executive committee had discussed the option of locking out the workforce "probably two weeks" before aircraft were grounded last October. 

Last night, the Transport Workers Union said Mr Evans's evidence was "damning". 

"It proves senior management deliberately and consistently misled the Australian community, the government and their workforce," the union's national secretary, Tony Sheldon, said. 

He said the comments by Mr Evans contradicted evidence given by Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce to a parliamentary committee last November. 

During the committee hearing, senator Nick Xenophon asked Mr Joyce about whether he had thought there was a prospect of grounding the fleet when he entered the company's annual general meeting on the Friday before the grounding.

Mr Joyce replied: "I did not. I did not have any view on the prospect of it." 

Mr Sheldon said the comments were at odds with what Mr Evans told FWA on Wednesday this week. But a Qantas spokesman last night denied the claims. 

At the FWA hearing, Mr Evans said the lockout option had been discussed a "week or so beforehand, two weeks beforehand". 

But he said locking out the workforce and shutting down the airline "wasn't developed as a specific option". 

"We knew that was an option that was open," Mr Evans said. 

He said that "ultimately" the decision to shut down the airline was taken by Mr Joyce on the Saturday. 

Qantas spokeswoman Olivia Wirth said Mr Sheldon's claims were "another conspiracy theory from the union official who was at the centre of last year's dispute". 

"The evidence from Mr Evans does not contradict Mr Joyce in any way," she said. "Qantas was considering a range of options to deal with the unsustainable situation of three unions taking damaging industrial action, including a strike by thousands of Transport Workers Union workers the day before the announcement of the lockout and threats of strikes for up to a year. 

"Qantas had always known that a lockout was an option because it's the only form of industrial action an employer can take under the legislation, but a range of options were under consideration and the decision was not made until the day."

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