- by N Stallon
- The Guardian
- Issue #1994
Qantas has applied to the Fair Work Commission to terminate its Long-Haul Cabin Crew agreement.
The first time in its history that Qantas has tried to terminate an enterprise agreement, the move comes just after an overwhelming 97.5 per cent of the eligible 2561 employees voted no against a proposed new deal in December last year.
Proposed changes included a two-year wage freeze, an increase in standby shifts, and an end to the payment of meal allowances in cash in foreign countries.
If successful, the termination would see workers placed on the modern award, cutting pay by up to thirty-seven per cent, as well as forcing crew to work up to eighty-eight extra hours each 56-day roster period.
The Flight Attendants Association of Australia’s (FAAA) national secretary Teri O’Toole accused Qantas of “taking advantage of a pandemic and employees that have been stood down for twenty months” by offering a new EBA that would leave international cabin crew significantly worse off.
“When other professions are being rewarded with pay increases or COVID payments, international cabin crew are having conditions stripped and no recognition for the risks of COVID exposure,” O’Toole said.
Qantas claims the decision to terminate the agreement was made due to twenty per cent of its cabin crew workforce being permitted to work on only one type of aircraft under the current agreement.
However, the FAAA denies this, responding that “the FAAA is willing to allow all crew to work on all aircraft, just not on the terms put forward by the company.”
Speaking on Qantas’ agreement to terminate the agreement, O’Toole said that “this is a very disappointing decision, and one management should be ashamed of.”
“Qantas has received more taxpayer money than anyone else and now they want their employees to massively reduce pay and conditions.
“That’s not the Australia that the public should tolerate. The government needs to step in and ensure that the laws are not used to attack workers in the way that this airline is doing.”
ACTU President Michele O’Neill aired similar concerns, stating that “Qantas has received billions in taxpayer funds over the last two years. Now they are threatening workers to try and force through a deal, slash wages and keep more of our money for themselves.”
“Flight attendants are highly trained to deal with a wide range of incredibly difficult situations. They have made sacrifices again and again during the pandemic, and they have the full support of the union movement in this fight.
“Qantas should withdraw this threat, and should be condemned by the Morrison Government.”
The FAAA’s O’Toole has accused Qantas of using the stall in negotiations as an excuse to wind back hard fought for conditions.
“They’re making out that we’ve said no to everything,” she said.
“We’ve given them so much of what they wanted. We want to negotiate.
“I don’t think they want an agreement. I think this was their plan all along: to explode the EBA.”
The ACTU’s O’Neill has suggested that companies, including Qantas, Patrick Terminals, and Svitzer are rushing to unilaterally terminate agreements before the election due to the ALP’s promise to outlaw the practice if it wins the election.
“It looks to us like companies are seeing this moment as their best chance to cut workers’ wages and conditions, while Scott Morrison is in power.”
The termination of enterprise agreements has increased in frequency since the landmark 2015 Aurizon case in which the Fair Work Commission (FWC) allowed the rail company to terminate a dozen enterprise agreements.
O’Neill criticised the outcome, which she claims “set a bizarre precedent that somehow said that forcing unions and workers to bargain from the bare minimum was somehow in the public interest.”
“We reject that,” she said.
“It’s something that really puts a gun to the head of workers in the sense that it is such an extreme action. You can imagine the impact it would have where workers are told their simple choice is either go backwards by up to 50 per cent of your wages, or agree with the deal we want.”
University of Adelaide Professor Andrew Stewart said that while there was no guarantee an application would succeed, with the amount of Liberal appointees to the FWC, all from employer backgrounds, “chances are better than ever that you’ll get a sympathetic commissioner”.
The Fair Work Commission will hear arguments for and against the termination from 19th April to 22nd April.