Thumbs down for Joyce tactic

Release date: 22/03/2012

Qantas Airways would be prevented from grounding its fleet without prior consultation with the government and safety authorities under surprise regulations recommended by a Senate committee yesterday.

Andrew Cleary, The Australian Financial Review

The majority committee report, which was not supported by Coalition senators, also recommended that the government consider imposing financial penalties if it were proved that safety concerns had been cited for grounding an airline without a valid reason.

While the report came down in favour of Qantas by determining two bills introduced by independent senator Nick Xenophon and the Greens should not be passed, the additional three recommendations were regarded as a political backlash to CEO Alan Joyce’s shock grounding of the airline last year.

The government, which was informed of the grounding hours before its execution, was subsequently forced to intervene in the industrial relations dispute that was raging between Qantas and three separate unions – a move that saw relations between the company and Canberra sour publicly.

“Qantas’s decision to lock out its workforce and ground its fleet on 29 October 2011 was highly controversial,” the report states.

“The committee is mindful that this action had disastrous implications for Australia.”

The Senate committee recommendation would in effect take the decision over whether to ground an airline away from the holder of an Air Operators Certificate (AOC) – the airline – and place it in the hands of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and the Department of Transport and Infrastructure.

The Senate inquiry was initially called to consider a bill proposing tougher restrictions on the airline through amendments to the Qantas Sale Act and another bill regarding the use of offshore cabin crew on domestic flight sectors.

But its scope was widened after Mr Joyce’s decision last year to lock out workers and ground the airline due to safety concerns.

Mr Joyce, who was attacked during the inquiry in Canberra by various senators over the unprecedented grounding, at one stage likening the proceedings to the McCarthy-era communist witch hunt in the US.

Qantas’s head of government and corporate affairs, Olivia Wirth, said the requirement to submit a safety case to CASA would endanger the safe operation of the airline.

“There was no credible evidence presented before the committee which indicated that Australia’s aviation industry would be safer from the implementation of such a recommendation. In fact the opposite could be true,” Ms Wirth said.

“To be required to undergo a time- consuming process of justification and approval prior to taking safety action is unacceptable to Qantas and contrary to basic safety management principles.”

Ms Wirth pointed to the incident where the entire Airbus A380 fleet was grounded in the wake of an engine explosion in November 2010 as one example where it had to act swiftly on safety concerns.

A third recommendation of the committee was for a review of the application of the Fair Work Act to foreign-based employees working on the domestic legs of international flights, or so-called “tag flights”.

In a dissenting report, Coalition senators opposed the first three recommendations and agreed that the two bills should not be passed.

“An individual or any other business entity should not be subjected to any legislation that removes their pre-eminent and indisputable right to run itself,” the Coalition senators said.

“A CEO or delegated officer frequently has to make safety decisions under real-time pressure, often with incomplete information.”

Senator Xenophon also tabled a dissenting report backed by Democrat senator John Madigan.

Click here to read the story on AFR website

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