Qantas is accused of “exploiting” the pandemic to “blow up” workplace agreements with international flight attendants.
- Qantas has filed an application to terminate its EBA with international cabin crew
- This is the first time it has attempted to do this, and one expert says it is the “nuclear option”.
- The unions are cracking down on the decision
The Australian airline went to the Fair Work Commission this week to terminate its corporate agreement with long-haul cabin crew.
The application to the Fair Work Commission comes as the cabin crew, their union and Qantas have been in stalled negotiations to change the terms of the workers’ agreement.
This is the first time in its history that Qantas has tried to tear down an existing workplace agreement.
University of Adelaide workplace law expert Andrew Stewart said the airline “is taking the nuclear option”.
“It’s the nuclear option in the sense that it takes years and years of negotiated schemes and just blows them up – or at least signals a willingness to blow them up to achieve a very, very different set of conditions. for the staff concerned, “said Professor Stewart.
What is the problem with the negotiations?
Qantas said in a statement that it wanted to adjust its Long Haul Cabin Crew Agreement “to change restrictive and outdated roster processes”.
It said the current arrangements meant that about 20 percent of its 2,500 long-haul crews could only be used on a single type of aircraft.
Under the existing agreement, cabin crews on the A330 fleet cannot be used on the 787 and A380 fleets, making it more difficult for Qantas to change aircraft type.
“Which is impractical as the airline is looking to get over COVID,” it said.
Qantas said it offered workers more money and allowances in return for changing those schemes, but both the workers’ union, the Flight Attendant’s Association of Australia (FAAA) and 97 per cent of employees who voted rejected the offer.
“Asking to terminate the current agreement is the last thing we want, but we are stuck between rock and hard,” Qantas International CEO Andrew David said in a statement.
The FAAA ran a scare campaign against the new deal, claiming it would mean layoffs and offshoring, despite the fact that we are currently hiring new staff in Australia.
“The union’s standard position is that the company is not to be trusted and must always give more. That is simply wrong.”
‘Breaks the back’ of the staff, it was called ‘heroes’
The FAAA’s federal secretary, Teri O’Toole, told ABC that the airline’s comments about its negotiation tactics were “completely untrue”.
“We did not run a scare campaign at all. That is simply untrue,” she replied.
“It’s like if you go to work for four weeks and one of those weeks you have no idea where you want to be. You can not plan your life.
“The cabin crew are no longer single people. They are not so inflexible that they can have this insecurity.”
Ms O’Toole said the union agreed with Qantas on most of the changes it offered, and even came to it with a halfway agreement on the changes to the roster’s flexibility.
“They pretend we’ve said no to everything,” she said.
“We have given them as much of what they wanted. We want to negotiate.
Mrs O’Toole said staff morale was “shocking” and many of them had just put themselves in danger by working on international repatriation flights to get Australians home during the pandemic.
“These employees were heroes last week who went into COVID-infected hotspots to rescue Australians even before vaccinations. They have been quarantined in Howard Springs. [in Darwin],” she said.
“Now they are heroes, but they are not worth anything and we will break their backs on them.
“It’s wrong. It’s not the spirit.”
The Australian Trade Union Confederation (ACTU) has also opposed Qantas’ submission to the Fair Work Commission.
It noted that if the Qantas application was successful, some of the stewardesses could be returned at an industry price that offered far less money than the current deal.
It said this would get some salaries halved.
“Qantas has received billions from taxpayers over the last two years,” said ACTU President Michele O’Neil.
‘Obvious tactics’ will not make the unions withdraw
University of Adelaide professor Stewart said at this stage that Qantas’ move was largely a threat.
“The threat to follow up and have the agreement repealed would put very significant pressure on cabin crew and their union to reconsider their bargaining position,” he said.
“I think it’s highly unlikely that it’s going to cause [the union] to fold on some of the key issues. “
Professor Stewart says the interesting thing about Qantas’ move was that it signaled how the airline wanted to operate in the future.
“There’s a much bigger context and a much bigger competition going on here that’s really about what kind of business Qantas is going to be in the future,” he said.
“It’s a clear attack on an existing part of their relationship.
“It sends a signal, which Qantas has also sent in other parts of this business over the last few years, that it sees its future profitability bound to reduce its labor costs and maintain its profitability.
“But in the short term, this is just an obvious negotiation tactic that was open to Qantas.”