Qantas and the Unions- Desperate Dejavu?

My friend Leanne has been planning her Italian holiday for 18 months. She was flying out tomorrow with Qantas. Not anymore. In a move thats bizarre, risky and inexplicable, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce told a news conference in Sydney, Saturday: “We have decided to ground the Qantas international and domestic fleets immediately,” Joyce said.!/annalunoe/status/130195707050205184How often does an airline shut down all of its operations?  108 planes grounded. Those in the air landed at their destinations. The rest are not going anywhere. On Monday the entire staff will be stood down without pay. There are seventeen heads of state due to fly out of Perth on Qantas flights Sunday from the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Perth. The Queen flies British Airways! 13 000 Australians are immediately stranded overseas and that number will grow every day. The shocking thing is the lack of notice. Surely Qantas could have first threatened to do this to force the unions to negotiate? It would seem that the airline was desperate to get this dispute resolved before the busy Christmas period started.

The actions comes after weeks of rolling stoppages by three unions: the Australian Licenced Aircraft Engineers Association, the Transport Workers Union, (who represent ramp, baggage and catering staff) and the Australian and International Pilots Association. These stoppages are believed to have cost Qantas $68 million so far.

The vice-president of the Pilots Association, Richard Woodward said that Mr Joyce was ”completely mad”. ”This is a stunning overreaction. It is straight-up blackmail,” he said. ”I knew he was trying to kill Qantas, but I didn’t know he wanted to do it this quickly.” He called on the Qantas board to sack Mr Joyce immediately. Mr Joyce in the meantime, is claiming the unions are trying to kill Qantas. Alan Joyce was appointed chief executive of Qantas’ low-cost subsidiary  Jetstar Airways in 2003 and then moved to Qantas CEO in 2008. He received a pay rise on Friday.

My friend Jon doesn’t care whose fault it is. He was meant to fly the 2700km  from Melbourne to Perth next week to find a house and job as part of his relocation between the two cities. He can’t drive there or take the train in the time he has allowed. Virgin Australia have announced special assistance for those who are already away and want to get home  with fares 20% off saver fares. However this won’t help Jon. In fact Virgin said: If you are currently at your home port and hold a Qantas ticket for outbound travel within the next 5 days, we recommend you reconsider your need to travel during this period. Air Asia have announced a special deals for international Qantas passengers of $150 per sector. Qantas is paying for accommodation for stranded passengers,

I checked the ticketing systems today and there are no seats available for Melbourne to anywhere in Australia on Monday with Virgin despite reassurances they are putting on extra flights. To get from Melbourne to Sydney I found a fare with Emirates for $557 via Auckland, New Zealand. This would turn the 1.5 hour journey into one with seven hours of travel and a five hour wait. At least Emirates is wonderful. Think of all the points you could get and you could visit some relatives or friends during the wait!

I am old enough to remember in 1989 when the the Australian Federation of Air Pilots(AFAP) organised a campaign where they only made themselves available for flying duties within the normal office working hours of 9am to 5pm. The airlines shut the system down then. The Pilots Federation advised their members to resign to prevent legal action. The last dispute lasted for weeks. I like this assessment of that dispute by a former pilot: If there was one underlying characteristic about the Dispute it would have to be ‘madness’. Madness in the sense that there was a loss of insight by all the parties involved into the eventual consequences of their respective actions. After all, there have been no winners in the Dispute.

One wonders if there will be winners in this dispute?  I wonder if shutting down all operations of the airline to force Fair Work Australia to terminate the industrial action int like shutting off a patient’s life support to fix a broken leg?  What will the cost be in loss of future bookings? Or will people trust the airline more if they know there are likely to be less disruptions? I blogged recently that Joyce in trying to change the airline, may be alienating employees, frequent flyers and the general public. Today’s risky move could really erode all of his support or gain him new friends.  On Australian Frequent Flyer’s Forum, reactions have been strong and mixed ranging from: “I had thought that the Qantas Managers were paid to work through these issues and not to be totally irrational in their actions.” to “Good on Alan Joyce I say, he’s got some serious guts to ground an airline. He’s earning ever cent of his pay cheque right now.”

The Tourism & Transport Forum (TTF) chief executive John Lee said today“Enough is enough. This will have an immediate and potentially catastrophic impact on tourism operators and will threaten the viability of tourism businesses across the country. This issue must be resolved urgently and that will need leadership from the highest levels.”

Lets hope this is resolved soon. In the meantime, Leanne thinks she has a seat on Qatar, thanks to her travel insurance. Jon isnt sure yet what he will be doing. Good Luck guys.



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