Qantas CEO Alan Joyce is upping the ante dramatically in the carrier’s battle with its unions by locking out workers and grounding the carrier’s mainline fleet.
The grounding appears to be an act of brinksmanship aimed at forcing not just the unions’ hand, but the Australian government’s too. The government has previously said it was not yet ready to step into the labor dispute, but now is now becoming more directly involved.
In response to the Qantas move, the government has exercised its authority to request that Fair Work Australia – the country’s top labor relations panel – suspend the industrial action. Fair Work Australia is expected to hold an emergency meeting late on Oct. 29 to consider the request. (UPDATE - the meeting will continue Oct. 30).
Two of the three unions involved – representing baggage handlers and engineers – have already held targeted strikes, although the engineers’ union recently announced a three-week halt to industrial action. Joyce says that with the airline’s latest move, “the ball is back in [unions’] court.
The lockout of engineers, baggage handlers and international pilots is to begin at 8p.m. on Oct. 31 (Sydney time), but the airline is shutting down large parts of its operation in advance of this deadline. All mainline domestic and international flights will be affected, but not flights by subsidiaries Jetstar or QantasLink. Flights to New Zealand operated by JetConnect will also not be affected. The grounding is necessary because the locked-out workers are essential to the airline’s operation.
Joyce says the union actions have become so damaging that he has “no option but to force the issue.” He says he will “activate the one form of protected industrial action that is available to me to bring home to the unions the seriousness of their actions, and to get them to forge sensible deals with us.”
The affected unions are the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association (ALAEA), the Transport Workers Union (TWU), and the Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA). The airline wants the unions to drop “impossible” demands that have been made during protracted contract negotiations.
Joyce says these claims are: AIPA’s demand that Jetstar pilots be paid the same as Qantas pilots; ALAEA’s refusal to change certain work practices and rules that Qantas says are outdated; and TWU’s proposal that would prevent “the sensible use of contractors.”
Qantas says that industrial action since August has cost it almost AU$70 million (US$74.9 million) in lost revenue. Joyce says “high-value” domestic bookings are down by 25% year-on-year, with international bookings for November down nearly 10% versus the carrier’s expectations.