Qantas: executives may pocket millions, workers face uncertainty

Saturday, March 3, 2007

While Qantas workers' job security remains uncertain if the Airline Partners Australia (APA) $11.1 billion takeover bid for Qantas succeeds, executives at the national carrier stand to pocket millions.

Qantas executives' contracts provide for massive payments, as well as cash and share incentives and bonuses, in the case of a change in ownership of the airline. According to the February 21 Sydney Morning Herald, the payout for executives will be a whopping $91 million, with $8 million going to chief executive Steve Dixon.

Meanwhile, jobs at Qantas are in jeopardy, with APA refusing to make any commitments to unions about job security. The workers are concerned that their jobs will be cut to cover the executives' payouts and the huge debt that will be incurred by the private equity takeover.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions and the unions covering Qantas workers have been urging the federal government to use sections of the Qantas Sale Act (QSA) to stop the company from being dismembered, or its individual services outsourced or sent offshore. However, the act does not protect Qantas subsidiaries, including Jetstar, giving any new owner a loophole.

The union campaign focus on lobbying for the use of the QSA to ensure jobs are not sent offshore also ignores the fact that, since its privatisation by the Paul Keating Labor government, when the publicly owned airline was sold to Australian bosses, Qantas has slashed jobs, introduced individual employment contracts and outsourced maintenance. The fact is, business is business and bosses are bosses, irrespective of whether they are Australian or based overseas. Under capitalism, they will behave the same way.

In order to actually protect jobs, workers' rights and the quality of Qantas's services and safety record, the union movement should be campaigning for the re-nationalisation of Qantas. The takeover bid proposed by APA and the consequent likely job cuts would not have materialised if Qantas had remained publicly owned.

The much-vaunted advantages of privatisation, such as making services more efficient and cheaper through the pressure of competition, are most often actually achieved through cutting jobs and services. The worldwide privatisation drive since the 1980s shows that social values (such as job security and access to services, or in this case routes) are forced into the back seat by the whole logic of privatisation, which is to make the largest possible profit. Success is evaluated in terms of rewards to shareholders, not meeting human needs.

APA's priority will be to maximise profits, and we should not be surprised if it uses Jetstar to cash in. Any campaign to protect jobs and working conditions at Qantas must include the demand for the re-nationalisation of airline if it is to be effective.

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