Interview: Flying High
Unions: TUF on Toll
Industrial: Forward to the Past
Economics: Debt and the Economy
Obituary: The Charlatanry of Milton Friedman
Environment: Low Voltage
Legal: The Fair Deal
Review: A Little History
Seven Year Itch
Boss With a Heart
The Pilots have rejoined the ACTU after more than a decade in the wilderness following the infamous Pilots Strike. What has changed in that time?
In that time Qantas morphed from a government qango into a publicly listed company - and with it we have seen a shift in its commitment to quality standards to pursuit of short-term profits. At the same time the government has changed hands, lurched to the right and rolled out a much more aggressive model of industrial relations. This combination led us to the realisation that we can't fly solo, that we are part of a broader struggle and the best way to represent our members interests' is to re-engage with the broader union movement.,
How has the decision to re-affiliate changed the organisation?
There were pockets of resistance to the decision - but by and large the silent majority understand that the community and environment have moved on from 1989. So there was no widespread pushback from the decision to join the ATCU.
Nothing has changed from what the Association should have been, as opposed to what it had become. But it is a recognition that all Qantas employees are valued employees and we do have a common set of values in our approach to the world - and that working together, sharing information between like-minded people and being part of an organisation that has a voice does make sense.
Your members are obviously not the lowest paid workers in the movement, how does affect the way the union operates?
It means we are a well-resourced organisation that is capable of taking issues forward - using the courts where appropriate, rather than having to rely on industrial muscle. We like to think we can use civilised means to achieve our objectives.
You have an employer in Qantas that has been one of the chief backers of Work Choices, is that reflected in their relationship with your union?
Early on it did appear to be the case. When Work choices was on the front page 12 months ago the approach from Qantas appeared to be all about marginalising the association. In recent times the company appears to be reconsidering its approach and has become more conciliatory. Maybe they realise that a hostile environment will not be something external buyers will want to inherit.
Qantas is also vigorously pursuing cost-cutting, including establishing budget internal competition. Have your members had any say in this process?
Regretfully we have had no say at all. The company approach has simply been to divide and conquer the pilots. We see it as a very short-sighted policy because there are significant savings that pilots could help identify, if the managers only asked. Instead we are seen as the problem and the only strategy appears to be about attacking our wages and conditions.
What is the international experience on low cost airlines?
That is a very pertinent question. The British Airways, experience was that it cannibalised the mainline carrier and eventually it was spun off because it was doing too much commercial damage. Internationally, the first low cost was run by Freddie Laker - it failed; World Airlines failed; so there are real questions about the viability of low cost international airlines that Qantas seems to be attempting to defy.
Jetstar International is a multi-faceted vehicle. Yes, it is testing a new market, but it is also being used as an industrial tool to pull back legacy carrier labour costs. This is especially true with pilots, where Jetstar wages are well below OECD benchmarks. Our fear is that in the long term, JetStar International fails, the planes are repainted in Qantas colours, but the lower wage structures remain in place. So this is not just a business, it is a tool to cutting wages and conditions.
There has been talk of a private equity takeover; unlike most unions, AIPA has called for dialogue and even a cut of the action. What is behind this thinking?
We are trying to be open minded about it because the advice we get is that the company has a potentially serious financial difficulty pending and that their current strategy - the pincer movement to free up money by driving down labour costs - will eventually back-fire. If it doesn't free up money, it won't be able to make the required investment into the future. So it is currently on a hiding to nothing - a shrinking, unsustainable airline.
Private equity has deep pockets and a longer time frame to invest in airline without necessarily cutting it to pieces. That's a model that we think would be good for Qantas and good for its staff. A way for the airline to grow and become more prosperous. So if we get it right financially, there may be a pay-off in returns and job security for our members.
Where do you see Qantas being in 10 years time?
It really depends on the next three to five years. Unless there is significant change in philosophy I don't like what I see in future. Outsourcing, off shoring, casualising and transmitting is a disastrous HR trajectory for this company..
Qantas is a people service business and the people are disillusioned in the way this airline is being run. If that changes, the expectation can change too - and that's the real challenge for whoever owns Qantas - re-engagement with its people.
What is your broader perspective on the union movement's campaign for rights at work?
We had members at the National Day of Action and they were impressed and excited to be part of it. This is campaign that I think is essential for Australia and its people. Why? You see it round the edges of families and communities, people do not respond well to unrelenting pressure - and that is the end game of these changes;/ more pressure at work and at home.
Pilots are not traditionally regarded as lefties - how do you think they will respond at the ballot box?
If someone should choose to poll the pilots in July next year they will be able to predict the outcome of next election. Pilots are traditionally conservative, many are long-term Liberal voters - but Work choices could change many of them.
That said, they still need to be persuaded that the ALP has made the transition into a conscience-based political party sitting in the centre of Australian politics, much like where the Democrats sit in the USA. And that means killing the factions and the in-fighting and being fit to govern. After all, pilots will only get aboard something that is safe to fly.
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