Ewin Hannan, The Australian
The influential Transport Workers Union revealed last night that industrial action by its 9000 members at Qantas would be considered unless the airline agreed to clauses designed to curtail the use of cheaper contract workers.
The union, whose members include refuellers, baggage handlers, ramp, fleet and catering staff, signalled it would seek annual 4 per cent pay rises and extra employer superannuation contributions from Qantas.
"Over the past few years, Qantas has made it clear to the workforce that the undermining of wages and conditions and job security is part of its business model," the union's federal secretary, Tony Sheldon, told The Australian. "Job security will, without a doubt, be part of these negotiations with our workplace committee, and if a settlement is not reached, industrial action is definitely on the table and will be put to the members." The confrontation with unions comes as Qantas is under pressure over soaring oil prices, underperforming international operations and the impact of natural disasters in Japan, New Zealand and Australia. The company, which recently increased fuel surcharges, yesterday reiterated its opposition to the job security clauses, which are also being pursued by airline engineers and long-haul pilots.
"The unions are threatening industrial action while the company deals with rapidly increasing fuel prices, an underperforming international business and the operational impact of natural disasters in New Zealand, Japan and in Australia," a Qantas spokesman said yesterday.
"These so-called job security claims are actually about removing any flexibility that the company has to respond to changing operating conditions, and we have seen in the past six months just how volatile the aviation industry can be."
In a welcome development for the airline, Qantas has struck an in-principle agreement with the Australian Services Union, which represents 1000 check-in and administrative staff. It is understood the deal delivers annual pay rises of about 3 per cent.
The Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association yesterday promised not take any industrial action over the busy Easter period, or during any other peak period for the airline.
The association's federal secretary, Steve Purvinas, said any action would be "after Easter" because the union did not want to disrupt travellers and was committed to giving the negotiations sufficient time to reach a settlement. He said the association was committed to pursuing job security clauses. It had applied for a secret ballot to approve legally protected industrial action, including the option of strikes of up to two days. However, if action were approved, it was likely to be limited to short stoppages.
The Qantas spokesman said the company was extremely disappointed that the unions were putting "their unrealistic demands ahead of the interests of the travelling public".
"Qantas will do everything it can to minimise any impact on passengers should the unions proceed with this unnecessary industrial action," he said.
Australian and International Pilots Association president Barry Jackson said he was "stunned by the outburst from Qantas management".
"If there is a party here putting its own interests ahead of the travelling public, it's certainly not Qantas pilots - it's Qantas management," he said.
"This will come as no surprise to Australian passengers as management has an unfortunately poor recent record in this regard.
"The job security claims being made by pilots will have precisely zero negative effect on the company's ability to deal with fuel prices or natural disasters.
"On the contrary, securing the employment of world-class Australian pilots can only bolster the company's position.
"Both pilots and the travelling public are in agreement that if you buy a Qantas ticket on a Qantas plane, you are entitled to a Qantas pilot. Our job security claims are all about safeguarding this in the face of a short-sighted outsourcing and offshoring agenda.
"Despite the unfortunate recent rhetoric from management, we remain optimistic that they will soon see the soundness of their pilots' position and common ground can be found."
Mr Sheldon said the TWU was surveying about 9000 members and "although only early, the results are pointing to concerns in the workforce over the use of outside hire".
"This has led to a higher staff turnover, lower training, lower safety and security across the airline's operations, but has also drives down wages and conditions in the sector," he said.
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