How mean can employers get? Very mean apparently
by Anna Pha June 4 was Breakaway Day for Qantas contract staff who manage the airline's Frequent Flyer program as they went public over Qantas' refusal to recognise their contribution to the travel industry. Wearing something red to express their anger, they protested outside the airline's offices in Franklin St, Melbourne. They were joined by people from other unions. The staff, members of the Australian Services Union, are employed at the Qantas Frequent Flyer Customer Service Centre which has a contract with Qantas to service the airline's Frequent Flyer program. They are seeking membership of a travel industry club — the Breakaway Club. Membership is open to anyone who works in the travel industry. Club members are eligible for flights and other travel products such as hotel stays, hire cars, package holidays, rail tours and passes (including Eurail) at reduced prices. These products are made available by the airlines and other travel outlets at discounted prices. The airlines usually sell seats from their excess capacity. Discounts on Club flights are not as generous as Qantas (non-contract) staff receive (up to 80% or 90%), but they are worth something (up to 60% or 70%). Club members pay an annual membership fee of $20 and must produce a letter from a recognised outfit verifying that they work in the industry. It would cost Qantas nothing to sign a letter saying that the staff at the Qantas Frequent Flyer Centre are employed in the industry but Qantas steadfastly refuses to sign a letter. Qantas has already given the Breakaway Club a certain allocation of seats. This would not change if Qantas signed. All the Qantas FF Centre staff are asking for is the same opportunity as other travel industry employees to have access to these discounts. Ansett, who has also outsourced its Frequent Flyer services, has recognised its Frequent Flyer staff as part of the industry. So, the Australian Services Union asks, "why can't Qantas?". Qantas has ignored a petition from the staff, a postcard campaign and has not responded to the actions on Breakaway Day. I appears that Qantas, having outsourced its Frequent Flyer Services to a private company, does not want to do anything that might suggest there is an employment relationship between it and the Frequent Flyer staff. Airline assault The contracting out by Ansett and Qantas of their Frequent Flyer services is just the beginning of an assault by the airline industry on jobs, wages and working conditions as well as special entitlements. Airlines are forming alliances around the globe, pooling resources and rationalising services. The Lufthansa Airline group have set up in Melbourne a call centre, Global TeleSales (GTS), to handle reservations, holiday and other travel business. GTS is the Federal Government's model of things to come. Victorian Jeff Kennett lured GTS to Victoria offering assistance on how to exploit Reith's industrial laws, and subsidised accommodation in Collins St, in the city centre. With the help of State and Federal Governments, GTS set about shutting out the union and using non-union individual contracts. It drew on the inferior (to the airlines award) Commercial Sales Award to gain greater flexibility and lower wages than at Ansett or Qantas. GTS has 70 employees at one centre and a relatively low rate of unionisation. In comparison, Ansett's call centre which handles flight reservations, car hire and other holiday needs has a network of seven centres with 1,200 staff. Ansett employees are mostly covered by the Clerks (Domestic Airlines) Award. Operators would earn about $33,000 for standard nine-to-five time on weekdays. With weekend work and overtime it could come to $50,000. In addition, they are entitled to discounted airfares. Pay at GTS for similar work could be less than $30,000, without access to cheap flights. Ansett has recently joined the international Star Alliance, which brings together a group of airlines covering all the continents. Lufthansa is also a member of that group. Qantas is part of the One World alliance which includes American Airlines and British Airways. One of the aims of these alliances is to rationalise the provision of services, to eliminate duplication of reservations, frequent flyer and other services. Eventually they expect to centralise operations with regional centres. GTS is an example of where the industry is heading. It does not take much imagination to see Ansett gradually contracting out the various services provided by its network of call centres to GTS with its cheaper labour costs and highly centralised operations.