TWU threatens strike over Qantas contracts

Release date: 7/07/2011

Qantas faces fresh disruption after the union representing baggage handlers and ground and catering staff warned strike action was likely within weeks unless the airline agreed to its job security demands.

Ewin Hannan, The Australian

Tony Sheldon, federal secretary of the Transport Workers Union, told The Australian yesterday strike action by his members was likely by the end of the month.

Union members will be asked to support a range of proposed actions ranging from indefinite strikes to shorter stoppages and industrial bans.

The TWU wants the airline to agree to a job security clause so the terms for contract workers equal the pay and conditions of union members. The union says this will remove the financial incentive for the airline to outsource employment.

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce, who held talks with Mr Sheldon yesterday, has previously condemned the union claim as a "veto on change".

Mr Sheldon repeated a warning issued in March that the standoff could spiral into the biggest industrial confrontation since the 1998 waterfront dispute.

He attacked the Gillard government for refusing to take on employers, claiming Labor was "scared" to confront Qantas over its industrial agenda.

"Muhammad Ali famously employed the rope-a-dope strategy, but he had fight in him after his opponent exhausted himself and could not throw a further punch," he said.

"I'd like to see some signs from the government it has a strategy of building on its success instead of being a corporate punching bag. They don't want to upset the big end of town.

"Qantas is pushing to outsource work traditionally done in Australia to overseas markets, yet the ALP won't criticise the action.

"If something is worth defending, and the Fair Work Act is, we should be out there rebutting some of the ideological drivel coming out of corporate Australia's mouth, especially when the system continues to provide them and their shareholders with a regular bounty."

A Qantas spokesman said the airline was disappointed the TWU was threatening strike action, as negotiations for a new pay agreement had just begun and had been "constructive".

"The threat of strike action comes at a time when there are mass disruptions to Australian travellers from the grounding of Tiger, and shortly after the impact of the volcanic ash cloud," the spokesman said.

"Qantas baggage and ground handlers are among the highest paid in the industry and we are willing to negotiate new pay and conditions for our workers.

"We would encourage the union to stay at the negotiating table rather than go on strike and disrupt passengers."

The Qantas engineers cancelled planned industrial action last week in the wake of the grounding of Tiger.

The Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association had been planning rolling two-hour stoppages at airports around Australia.

Click here to read the story on The Australian website

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