The Guardian June 16, 1999


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.

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