Qantas unions are fighting for job security against the airline’s efforts at outsourcing and cutting wages.

The pilots and engineers oppose Qantas’ plans to set up new Asian-based airlines to either employ workers on lower wages or shift their jobs offshore.

Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) members in baggage handling have rejected a company pay offer that involves cutting 1000 jobs, employing new staff on lower wages than existing workers and no limits on outsourcing jobs.

One TWU delegate told Solidarity, “There are two tiers of pay—EBA and entry level. [Any vacancy is] filled by an entry-level worker. The EBA gives you more job security than an entry level casual.

“The union wants entry level people to go onto the EBA after a period of time. Qantas won’t come to the party.”

The unions have been demonised by the media and the federal Labor government, accused of everything from “damaging the company” to harming the tourism industry and targeting passengers with their strikes.

The odious Martin Ferguson, in his role as Tourism Minister, and Julia Gillard, have raised the prospect of government “intervention” to end the dispute using the Fair Work Act. Ferguson, a former leader of ACTU, called Steve Purvinas, leader of the licensed engineers union, “unAustralian”.

They raised the spectre of the 1989 pilots’ strike that was broken by the then Hawke Labor government using air force pilots as scabs.

The tourism industry is campaigning for government intervention. In early October, John Lee, CEO of the Tourism and Transport Forum, said the $94 billion tourism industry depended on ending the strikes. He was joined by David Clarke, the chairman of Webjet and Graham Turner, managing director of Flight Centre.

But tourists have not been stopped going anywhere, Qantas is just concerned that they’re not the ones making the profits off them. Aviation journalist Ben Sandilands noted in October, “the Qantas claim to have been forced to remove 88,000 seats from availability in the current four weeks has it seems been more than offset by Virgin Australia putting an additional 124,000 seats on sale over the same period.”

Despite the tough talk Gillard has backed away from taking action so far. As the Sydney Morning Herald observed, “Intervention would require triggering the untested national interest provisions of the Fair Work Act and would provoke union outcry.”

The unions have used their strategic power to hit Qantas hard during AFL and NRL Grand Finals. Their 4-hour stoppages have been enough to create a serious backlog of passengers.

Qantas retaliated with a semi-lockout, cancelling hundreds of flights to punish the unions by denying their members work.

Unfortunately the licensed engineers then suspended all industrial action, saying they wanted to show that Qantas was to blame for flight cancellations, not any union action.

Meanwhile, the Qantas board has given CEO Alan Joyce a 71 per cent pay rise, to $5 million a year.

Qantas also finalised “the biggest sale in Australian aviation history” paying $9 billion for 110 new Airbus A320 aircraft. The jets will be used for Qantas’s new premium airline based in Singapore.

The unions are wary of Qantas’s promises.

“We have learnt from previous pay sacrifices that Qantas won’t give job security and makes ever upward profits. So we are digging our heels in this time,” a TWU delegate told Solidarity.

The unions are right to resist Qantas’ efforts to slash pay and conditions. This is a fight that Qantas should not be allowed to win.

Tom Orsag

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