Sunday, October 30, 2011

Qantas. Still Call [Insert Off-Shore Maintenance Facility Here] Home

What a debacle.  I wish I didn't understand, but unfortunately I think do.  The bottom line, to use an apropos phrase, is that Qantas wants to shaft pay and conditions and use off-shoring to boost profits.  As an amoral corporate entity whose only reason for existence is to make money, that is entirely rational.  However, the company doesn't use those words.  Profit is bad for PR.  So they say that they need to do this to "compete" because Virgin and the other low-cost carriers are not as unionised and pay their pilots, engineers and ramp staff less.

So how is Qantas doing?  Well, in 2010, they made a couple hundred million dollar profit.  Obviously, the institutional shareholders think that the CEO was doing a good job as they voted him a couple million dollars in extra pay this year.  This is despite the fact that the share price is down.

Now I am not a fan of unions, and sometimes they go overboard.  But is it not unreasonable to ask for a pay rise when the company is profitable?  After all, the CEO seemed to find it eminently reasonable to accept a 71% pay hike.  And given that management has the power in negotiations, and the only weapon at the workers' disposal is their labour, is it not unreasonable that when there is a breakdown of negotiations that the employees take industrial action?  Especially when the "industrial action" taken by the pilots was simply to issue announcements about their claims over the intercom after take-off?

Qantas has massively over-reacted.  Even ignoring the massive disruption to passengers, this lockout punishes all of the Qantas employees; even those not part of the unions taking part in industrial action.  Given Qantas' dominant position in the domestic airline space, with more than 50% capacity eliminated with no notice, how is this not just the management version of the thuggery they accuse unions of?  As I saw a quote somewhere, the Qantas management are holding the nation hostage to get their way in an industrial dispute.

I also find it unbelievably hypocritical for some right wing, free-market nutters who are against big government wanting the self-same government to intervene, interfere with the statutory industrial arbiters, overturn their own legislation to "resolve" the dispute - which to their mind means shafting the union.  These people will then blame the same government should Qantas succeed and then move its operations off-shore, which seems to be the company's long term strategy anyway.

I have a horrible feeling that the CEO of Qantas, with the rhetoric he is using, believes that he needs to destroy the company in order to save it.  And to be honest, in the long run, will the 60,000 stranded passengers care that this is a tactic of the management in response to union demands and ultimately blame the unions?  I doubt it.  The vast majority of these passengers won't care a jot.  But they will remember that Brand Qantas screwed them over, and while many domestic travellers won't have much choice due to the effective duopoly in the airline business, this will be another blow to the part of Qantas that is losing money, namely the international travel part.  Thus giving further "justification" to the argument that restructuring, wage and condition cuts and off-shoring are necessary.

There is no way that this is going to end well.  And I leave you with the fundamental questions I have.  Is it unreasonable for workers to ask for a larger share of the profits (and remember Qantas is turning a profit) when the CEO takes a pay rise for, seemingly, the same reason?  How much profit is enough?  (Silly question, I know)  And finally, if it is perfectly acceptable to decry "union thuggery" that impacts passengers during a work stoppage, how can you reasonably defend the actions that the CEO has take in response?

I'm just glad I'm not scheduled to fly this week.

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