Qantas, Toyota, SPC, GMH and Ford scream the same warning: 'change or else'

Cutting Qantas jobs will not on its own solve the problem. Alan Joyce must tackle a key underlying cause of the airline’s misery - old style industrial agreements.

What will it take for Australia to connect the dots?

Qantas is just another example where Australian managers and workers who demand old-style, rigid union dominated rules will be chopped.

At the core, Qantas is no different to other companies that have hit the headlines, led by Toyota, Ford, General Motors, SPC etc. 

All of them set up management and labour practices that belong  to a different era when there were high levels of protection, albeit that the protection took different forms in airlines, motor and food. 

Once that protection was removed, led by a higher dollar, organisations like GMH and Ford and SPC had either to change their industrial relations or receive heavy government aid. I fully realise this is an over simplification and that other factors are involved (such as the 65 per cent market share) but it is a central truth.

The federal government chose to turn its back on General Motors, SPC and Toyota while Victoria helped SPC. Unlike the motor makers the federal government has not undertaken any productivity analysis of Qantas. It will help Qantas simply because Qantas is an Australian icon.

At the heart of the Qantas-GMH-Ford-Toyota-SPC problem is that past management conceded to union demands for a role in management or rigid rules as to how the business should be run.

For generations Australian unions were about getting better pay and conditions for their members.

Somewhere, somehow in the last decade or two they became interested in much more -- they wanted to have a much bigger role in management. And that role was enshrined in the Gillard-Rudd-Combet industrial relations acts.

Australian workers are not stupid. By now they must know that the closure of Ford, General Motors and Toyota was as much about union imposed work and management practices as it was about the dollar and bad free trade agreements (Why Toyota is leaving Australia: The real story, February 12).

The union desire for a role in management reached its peak in the building industry, where companies and unions came together to control who could be subcontractors and make it very tough for newcomers.

The building unions having been given enormous power by management and appear to have used that power for a range of illegal activities. But that is not proven.

Now suddenly as Bill Shorten and Tony Abbott start to realise the power of the three tsunamis (A tsunami warning for business and executives, February 11) about to hit  employment in Australia everyone is talking about job creation.

Just as you need to make it easier for businesses to start up and develop, so Australia has to get unions out of management. Given the industrial relations act, the best way to do it is via independent contracting.  

At the same time, the base of any enterprise agreement in this environment must be the famous three requirements: there must be no “Consultative Committee” that has decision making teeth; there must be no restrictions whatsoever on the use of contractors; and subcontractors - including small independent contractors and managers - must have sole authority over rosters, the staggering of holidays etc.

Qantas rivals are not saddled with bad agreements so they have lower costs. That is not sustainable for Qantas.