IN MID-AUGUST, Qantas announced plans to restructure its international arm, or Mainline, into Asia with a hub in Japan and a second Asian airport, at a cost of 1000 jobs in Australia. Yet Qantas just announced an interim profit $552 million, up 46 per cent on last year’s and one of best in the world. According to the Financial Review, Qantas is sitting on a cash balance of $3 billion and its earnings are predicted to grow by 31 per cent in 2012.
Qantas unions now have a fight on their hands to save jobs. With the pilots (APIA), engineers (ALAEA) and ground staff (TWU) unions all balloted for strike action over their expired Enterprise Bargaining Agreements (EBAs), the groundwork could not be better for a united fight to defend jobs, a decent pay rise and improved conditions.
However, the signs are not good. There has been limited industrial action so far. Aircraft engineers in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide are due to take turns to stop work for one hour each day from the end of August. But strangely, the association has offered to organise for other workers to cover for those on strike, provided they are paid overtime.
The ALAEA are also floating the suggestion of a High Court challenge, as Qantas’ push into Asia may breach the Qantas Sale Act of 1992. But court challenges invariably become an excuse for union officials not to organise industrial action.
Warehouse workers covered by the National Union of Workers (NUW), struck for a day in late July over job security and wages, but are not currently balloting for strike action.
Qantas is in a race to the bottom, using its new hubs in Asia to cut its “operating” or “running” costs—the pay and conditions of pilots, engineers and ground staff.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce insists that Qanats will only survive if their plans proceed, but the media reports Joyce’s move as “unveiling a five-year plan to increase profits.”
Joyce is also trying to play the workers of its cut-price subsidiary, Jetstar, who have worse wages and conditions, against those of Qantas workers.
Qantas unions are also appealing to nationalism to try to influence the Labor government.
ACTU Secretary, Jeff Lawrence says Qantas’ plan “really brings into question whether Qantas is truly an Australian airline.” Even Adam Bandt MP, the most left-wing of The Greens, said it was an issue of “ensuring we maintain an Australian air industry.”
But nationalism is a dead end for the workers. Transport Minister, Anthony Albanese, showed whose side the government is on. After meeting the Qantas boss, he declared, “Job losses are always regrettable, but the government acknowledges that this is a commercial decision taken by Qantas.”
Qantas is vulnerable to industrial action and international airline workers have shown it is possible to fight and win.
Garuda pilots in Indonesia struck for 24 hours in August for wage parity across the company. Philippine Airlines and Japan Airlines also have current disputes over job losses and contract labour hire.
News Limited reported, “Financial analysts predicted that Qantas’s five-year survival strategy would fall apart if the unions…succeeded in pressuring the government to force the airline to pay higher wages in Asia.” Neil Watson, in the Herald Sun, reported that there was “a worldwide shortage of pilots.”
If the unions want an to save the jobs at Qantas they will have to mobilise their members to strike for it. Time is running out.