QANTAS remains a long way from resolving its standoff with two unions representing baggage handlers and long-haul pilots, despite reaching a new three-year deal with its 1600 licensed aircraft engineers.
Almost a year after their enterprise agreement expired, the engineers have gained an annual 3 per cent pay rise over the next three years and the retention of existing job functions but failed to win their most contentious demand for Qantas to conduct heavy maintenance on its A380 superjumbo fleet in Australia.
Despite the deal with the engineers, the Transport Workers Union, which represents ground crews, said it was no closer to reaching a settlement with Qantas and remained focused on preparing for a hearing before a full bench of Fair Work Australia in late March.
The TWU's general counsel, Michael Burns, said there was common ground with Qantas over wages but the two sides remained poles apart over job-security provisions. The union wants a new contract to include limits on the number of contractors Qantas can employ to fill roles already carried out by its members.
"Until Qantas changes its position, this case will not be resolved. The feeling of our guys is ... that they are not happy with the positions Qantas has taken," he said.
Mr Burns said the resolution of the engineers' dispute did not make it any more likely that the TWU's case would be resolved earlier as there were large differences between the three unions' claims.
The long-haul pilots union said yesterday that it was still a long way from reaching a settlement. "If we could get a minimalist deal we probably would," the vice-president of the Australian and International Pilots Association, Richard Woodward, said. "But both sides have to be willing."
The federal secretary of the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association, Steve Purvinas, said the union had missed out on securing a new hangar in Australia for heavy maintenance work on Qantas's A380s but had won "all of our existing functions in a job-security clause".
"Our agreement will not stop them starting up a premium carrier overseas but it certainly is going to secure the jobs of our members on shore," he said.
A key part of Qantas's strategy to turn around the fortunes of its international operations is a plan to set up an ultra-premium airline in south-east Asia.
Mr Purvinas conceded that the union would have "come out second best" if the dispute had gone to binding arbitration before three Fair Work commissioners.
The head of Qantas, Alan Joyce, said he was pleased that a deal had been reached allowing the airline to maintain flexibility so that it could compete against international rivals.
The agreement also includes the easing of restrictions on extended-hours rosters and arrangements for the transition to retirement of licensed engineers.
Shares in Qantas fell 3 per cent to $1.475 yesterday. Its rival Virgin Australia fell 8 per cent to 30? amid a large market slump.
INDUSTRIAL CAT AND MOUSE
May 9 Qantas's 1600 licensed aircraft engineers decide to begin nationwide industrial action over wage and job-security demands.
August 16 Qantas unveils plans to cut 1000 jobs and set up two new airlines based in Asia to save its international flying division.
October 29 Qantas boss Alan Joyce makes the shock decision to ground the airline's entire fleet.
October 31 Fair Work Australia terminates the dispute between Qantas and the unions representing long-haul pilots, engineers and ground crews.
November 21 Qantas and the three unions face binding arbitration before the industrial umpire after failing to reach any agreement during a 21-day negotiating period.
Yesterday Qantas reaches a three-year deal with the engineers' union. The agreement includes pay rises of 3 per cent a year.