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Qantas ignores passengers in union-busting tactics

For years Qantas has marketed itself to the world with the Peter Allen song, "I still call Australia home."

On Sunday night, around 70,000 passengers in Australia and across the globe just wanted to get home but they were held to ransom by an airline that seemed it couldn't care less.

Fair Work Australia ordered early on Monday morning for the company to call off its action to shut out staff and for all sides to settle their dispute within 21 days. While flights were due to resume yesterday afternoon, thousands of people are still confused and frustrated at airports around the world, all trying to reach their destinations.

The justification by the company's senior management for the grounding was disproportionate and extreme. It was far beyond the campaign the unions are running to try to preserve Australian jobs and maintenance contracts.

The Fair Work Act requires any party to give 72 hours' notice before a strike, but the airline gave no warning. If any of the three unions had called a snap strike, the airline would scream bloody murder.

But when an airline does the equivalent, its management says it had to be done to head off further union disruptions over the coming year. Management has shown a lack of commonsense and respect for its passengers, because it gave them no warning before shutting down its routes on Saturday afternoon.

Does anyone really believe that Qantas' senior management was not planning the disruption? It's not as if chief executive, Alan Joyce, woke up on Saturday morning thinking, "Eureka! Now that my $2m pay rise has gone through, I'll ground all the flights and catch the unions off guard". A decision to terminate nearly 450 flights is not taken lightly. The board must have done modelling on how much the company could afford to lose before it won its way.

News reports on Monday suggested the pain to the national economy could have been up to $250 million dollars a day. The company appears intent on hobbling our tourism industry by sending the wrong signal to people contemplating using Qantas for their Australian holiday.

I was able to use Virgin to get to work in Canberra, but I have empathy for those who missed a hospital visit, job interview or a wedding or have to stay in an airport terminal because they cannot get onto or afford another airline.

Qantas' communication with its passengers has been appalling and sorely lacking. I've heard one distressed traveller in Adelaide who was checked-in by Qantas staff on Saturday, and was waiting in the departure lounge before being told her flight was cancelled.

Another person I know received a text message after 8pm on Sunday night informing them their Qantas flight the following morning had been cancelled. I feel sorry for those Qantas passengers who don't follow news reports closely and were not aware the fleet had been grounded.

Passengers I saw on news reports had been halfway to Australia when they were stuck in places such as Los Angeles or Bangkok or Hong Kong. Others had saved for years for the cruise of a lifetime, only to find they could not make it to Australia before the ship was due to sail. I can only imagine how livid one Qantas passenger at LAX was when she tweeted the jet's doors had closed but the flight had been cancelled.

I agree with what the consumer organisation Choice has suggested - passengers left stranded should be compensated by Qantas, and penalties be imposed so the problem is not repeated.

Alan Joyce's attitude through all of this has been nothing but arrogant. He's riding high because regardless of the airline's future, he's already received his bonus. Australians don't cop arrogance very well, and the public have let him know on social media networks.

Qantas's marketing slogan is the "spirit of Australia." Given the damage Mr Joyce has caused to its national and international reputation, I hope we will not soon be talking about the ghost of an airline and more Australian employees sacked to pay for the costs of grounding all flights.

First published in The National Times on November 1, 2011.

 

 

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