For those flyers and Qantas investors who have endured months of disruptions during the industrial disputes between management and three key unions this year, today’s consent arbitration settling the licensed engineers claims might be enough to make them think of holding a few protest demos of their own.
On the one hand, the deal means Qantas is free to launch a premium carrier in Asia, which, according to its CEO Alan Joyce, will save its international business from ruin within three to five years. On the other hand the licensed engineers have been given a job security clause protecting all of their current positions for the four years of the agreement, which is back dated to the start of this year.
Wait a minute. Job security was supposed to be impossible to guarantee. It was supposed to be fatal to the airline’s ability to escape from the confines of Australia’s borders and become competitive.
The deal that Qantas gets the right to chance its arm launching a premium narrow-body carrier in Asia, (providing an Asian country agrees) and the licensed engineers get a further three years of job security, seems to be something that could have been settled any time in the past year through normal enterprise bargaining negotiations.
But what happened instead was almost a year of ideological push and shove from both sides, culminating in a complete grounding by the airline on October 29, followed by the ACCC deciding not to prosecute the carrier for a fundamental breach of corporate law, that of taking money for a product or service it knew it could not provide.
Left unresolved are the disputes between Qantas and its ground-handling staff and the long-haul pilots. The baggage handlers are now likely to seek from the compulsory arbitration process that they are engaged in before Fair Work Australia the same job security protection as the licensed engineers have just short circuited in agreement with Qantas through a consent arbitration that will be presented to the tribunal this afternoon.
Yet job security clauses were something that Qantas was going to die in a ditch to prevent, while this morning management says the engineering agreement doesn’t prevent it taking the steps it needs to ensure it is competitive in the international market. Go figure.
The pilot dispute has an added dimension. They took no industrial action other than wearing red ties and making in-flight statements that they believed Qantas jets should be flown by Qantas-trained pilots. This inflammatory behaviour was also suspended by Fair Work Australia on the application of the Australian government, but the pilots are expected to argue for that ruling against them to be overturned in an appeal in the Federal Court in February.
At this stage an arbitration of the pilot dispute is scheduled for June, but the chances of it taking that long are reduced by the most militant of the three unions, the licensed engineers, and management devising a consent arbitration for court approval.
After all the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it rhetoric from all sides, everyone seems likely to get what they always wanted, whether in terms of job security or the investment of Qantas assets abroad.
However, there is a shadow over the pilots, in that a similar agreement is unlikely to change the resolve of management to remove the terms and conditions of its Qantas brand pilots by whatever means remain, which is primarily, by growing Jetstar at the expense of Qantas, and basing new aircraft, starting with the delivery of more A330s and up to 50 delayed Boeing 787s, in Singapore or China, or Malaysia, or anywhere other than in Australia.
This story first appeared on www.crikey.com.au on December 19. Republished with permission.