Editorial: Corporate bastardry shows why Qantas should be nationalised

Occupy Sydney held a protest outside the Qantas conference at UNSW on October 28 in support of Qantas workers.
October 29, 2011

See also:
Unions respond to lock out: 'This is blackmail'
Occupy Sydney supports Qantas workers
Unions stand up to Qantas management
All of Green Left's extensive Occupy coverage

“I don't understand what the Occupy protests are all about,” is one common complaint in response to the global movement against corporate power.

An Australian-specific variation goes: “I can see the point in the US or Europe, but what is there to protest against here?”

A clear answer to these questions came on October 29 with possibly the biggest act of corporate bastardry in Australia since the stevedoring company Patricks sacked its entire unionised workforce in a bid to smash the Maritime Union of Australia in 1998.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce announced that, in response to legally protected industrial action by some of the Qantas workforce for modest pay rises and job security, the airline was grounding its fleet and locking out its workers.

The day before, a conference of Qantas shareholders voted to give Joyce a 71% pay rise — taking his annual salary to more than $5 million. Other board members received hefty boosts to their bloated salaries too.

The hypocrisy could not have been clearer.

Joyce defended the moves, which caused chaos for thousands of people around the world booked to fly Qantas, by claiming he had no choice in the face of “extreme” demands from three unions representing Qantas workers — the Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA), the Transport Workers Union (TWU) and the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association (ALAEA).

Joyce claimed union demands threatened thousands of jobs and the airline could go bankrupt.

However, TWU lead negotiator Scott Connolly said on October 12 that Qantas made $531 million pre-tax profit last year. Despite this, Qantas announced the sacking of 1000 workers.

The unions have spent months trying to negotiate agreements. The TWU is seeking a 5% wage and allowance rise a year, better job security for casual, labour-hire and contract staff, and protection from outsourcing.

ALAEA wants a 3% pay rise a year for three years and better job security provisions. AIPA wants to guarantee Qantas flights are piloted by Qantas pilots or by pilots on conditions equal to the Qantas pilot agreement — to stop Qantas outsourcing pilot work to cheaper labour.






Joyce's actions are aimed at destroying the power of the unions that represent Qantas workers to force through changes that will affect workers' conditions and passenger safety.

The federal Labor government immediately intervened and applied to its Fair Work Australia industrial relations commission to “resolve” the dispute by legally forcing an end to industrial action.

At 2.08am on October 31, the FWA handed down a ruling "terminating" the dispute -- a victory for Joyce and his tactics of industrial terrorism.

A better form of government intervention would be to reverse the privatisation of Qantas — and renationalise the airline.

This dispute shows why the airline should be publicly owned and run in the interests of society, not profit.

The Qantas dispute is a threat to the entire union movement and society as a whole.

If Qantas succeeds in destroying the power of its workers to collectively bargain, it will be a green light to other corporations to slash jobs, employ more contract labour, deny workers better wages and conditions, and block unions from organising.

Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon summed it up when she tweeted just after Joyce's announcement: “Alan Joyce shows he's part of 1%. #Qantas lockout another reminder why we need #Occupy movement.”

The Occupy movement is about the 99% taking on the 1% — the rich, corporate elite that dominate the economy and politics. It must actively support the struggle of the Qantas workers.

This has already begun. ALAEA general manager Peter Somerville spoke to an October 22 Occupy Sydney rally about the struggle. Occupy Sydney passed a motion in support of the Qantas workers and held a protest outside the Qantas shareholders conference.

The Qantas bosses are part of the 1%. The Qantas workers are part of the 99%. The 99% must stand with the Qantas workers.

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Comments

If Qantas goes out of business as a result of these strikes there will be no pay rises or job security for anyone, but instead unemployment.

I am starting to get fed up with how anyone associated with unions, the OWS and other protests claim to represent the 99% - they do not, and it quite arrogant of them to even make the claim that they do. Qantas has been making less and less return on investment over the last 10 years. Just making a profit does not tell the full story on its financial situation. Whilst Joyce has been exceptionally bold and perhaps careless in his actions, Qantas workers are probably going to find themselves out of a job if the airline goes under - and how does that help anyone? Qantas workers have some of the best conditions in any airline around the globe and they want more. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Finally, the Australian government does not have the will or the funds to buy out and nationalise Qantas. Hopefully FWA acts in the national interest and allows a company to run its own operations - if staff don't like it, they can always quit and work somewhere else.

Qantas is not going out of business because of relatively small scale industrial action. (And how can small actions by unions threaten the company, but grounding the entire fleet is somehow legitimate?)

However, there is no doubt Qantas wants to "compete" as highly as any other private company -- that is, win the highest profits and market share -- and this may be undermined by the pay and conditions of its workforce and the fact so many have permanent jobs (Qantas wants ground crew to be more than 50% contracted out, TWU wants to limit the number to 20%).

But so what? All *that* shows is why Qantas should never have been privatised int he first place -- and why it should be placed back in public hands. Then the chaos and bastardry of the weekend could have been avoided.

QANTAS has been actively trying to weaken the union movement within it's employee base for a long time. It around 1994 when QANTAS advised all of us that it would no longer make an automatic deduction from our pay for union fees and that if we wanted to stay with the union we would have to arrange that automatic payment through our own banks.
Alan Joyce isn't the only man to have a negative impact on the airline. James Strong and Geoff Dixon had a fair wack at it too.

Anyone remember Ansett

I am afraid that that idea went out years ago! Qantas is competing with cheaper airlines and reduced labour costs...thats the problem....they have lost customers due to cheaper airlines...people want cheap airfares...people want cheaper cars...people want cheaper electronic goods....
Wages in Australia are too high....the unions keep this up we wont have a Qantas...I dont see what the problem is....in the maritime industry we have gone from western crews to ships staffed by overseas crews...

It is privatisation that leaves Qantas having to compete on such terrain.

The logic expressed in your insistence that labour costs need to drop leads to disaster.

You need to think seriously about the economic logic of just letting labour costs be run down. "Workers" and "consumers" are not two separate categories -- they are the same people! If you run down labour costs to ensure profit margins you get... well in the US real wages haven't risen from about the early 70s and spending was fuelled by debt, which was speculated on wildly and dangerously by a financial sector that was bloated with investment because of the stagnation in the real economy. Look how that ended.

The United States road of breaking the unions, holding down wages and letting corporations off the leash is one to avoid -- as anyone not blinded by ideology can see just by looking at it.

It is the workers who make the planes fly, not Alan Joyce with his bloated salary. They deserve decent wages and conditions. But it is not just about the workers -- cost cutting, and using cheaper labour in places with less stringent laws and practices puts passenger safety at risk.

Qantas was nationalised until the mid 90s. It can go back to being nationalised. The sky won't fall down, but less planes probably will.

That would be the last airline Alan Joyce held a senior position in?

Why does GLW support pilots who are earning $500,000 a year? Surely these people aren't part of the 99%.

If GLW supports socialism and equality, surely you should be calling for lower wages for some Qantas employees.

Actually the article doesn't claim Occupy, or the unions *represents* the 99%. The Occupy movement does not say that. What people involved are saying is that we are all part of the 99% and we should unite against the 1%. And what this editorial does is argues *why* the 99% -- that is those who are not the Alan Joyces' of the world, should recognise whose side is theirs -- the workers.

If the Occupy movement or the unions simply "represented" the 99% there would be no need to make an argument. They are,however, part of it.

Because if Qantas' management can smash the unions and drive down wages, other companies will be embolden to do it too. And if Qantas is allowed to subordinate everything to cost cutting for short term profit, the quality and safety of the airline will be threatened.

For that reason, and so the likes of Joyce cannot hold society to ransom in such a way using the national carrier, just renationalise it, like it was.

Privatisation will kill QANTAS... it's already starting to. Unionists make easy scapegoats

And how exactly would nationalising Qantas solve any of the problems of its management, workers or customers?