Qantas Rejects TWU Claims that it Misled Public on Grounding

Release date: 30/05/2012

Qantas has rejected TWU accusations that it misled the public about last year's grounding, in the wake of CFO Gareth Evans last week telling a FWA hearing that the airline had discussed the possibility "probably two weeks" before it was implemented. 

Bernadette McBride, Workplace Express

Qantas says the union's claims are wrong and are not borne out by the evidence from Evans or by that of chief executive Alan Joyce at a Senate inquiry hearing last year.

The TWU is relying on evidence given on May 30 by Evans in the s266 workplace determination hearing.

Questioned by TWU barrister Adam Hatcher SC about whether the option to lock out the workforces and shut down the airline had been planned and prepared, Evans responded: “It had been talked about, yes.”

He then asked Evans exactly when this was first explored as an option, and he said: “A week or so beforehand, two weeks beforehand.”

When asked by Hatcher SC to clarify whether the matter was discussed either a week or two weeks prior, Evans replied: “Probably two weeks”.

Sheldon said on Friday that Evans’ testimony directly contradicted that of Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce, who told a Senate Committee in November last year that he made the decision to ground the airline on the morning of Saturday, October 29.

Joyce said: “I decided on the Saturday to call a board meeting and I made the decision that we were going to ground the airline.”

Sheldon rejected any suggestion that Joyce’s decision to ground the airline was a response to strike action or in anticipation of strikes by the TWU and said the union made it very clear to Joyce it would not strike for at least two weeks because it wanted to reach an agreement that provided job security for its members.

When pressed on whether his interpretation of the evidence of the senior executives was merely a case of semantics, Sheldon was adamant that the evidence in cross-examination proved that clear and absolute discussions had taken place and that the course of action had been adopted two weeks beforehand.

There was a clear strategy to shut down the airline, said Sheldon.

Qantas group spokesperson Olivia Wirth said Sheldon’s claims were incorrect and denied that the evidence from Evans contradicted Joyce's evidence at last year's Senate inquiry.

“Qantas has always known 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,” said Wirth.

In support of the airline’s view, Wirth pointed to another of Joyce’s statements before the Senate, where he said: “I can categorically say that I made a decision on Saturday. . . We had a lot more scenarios we were looking at than just this and there was a lot of planning done in advance, but there was nothing of it actioned until we made the decision.”

Joyce in his evidence to the inquiry also said the airline "had looked at a lockout as an alternative for a long time and we had planning documents looking at how we would do a lockout, what it would entail.

"That is why we came to the decision that once we made the lockout we had to ground the airline immediately—because we had done that planning, we had done the risk assessment and, when we had done the risk assessment as an example, we knew it.

"There is nothing wrong with a big business planning for these things. We should be planning for every scenario. We had a lot more scenarios we were looking at than just this and there was a lot of planning done in advance, but there was nothing of it actioned until we made the decision." 

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