Workers cannon fodder in sky wars
by Marcus Browning Three weeks ago when the Qantas deal to take over Impulse airlines was announced, both companies promised no jobs would be lost. Now, Impulse has sacked 200 of its ground handling and check-in staff and a further 100 of the 1000 Impulse employees are threatened at its call centre in Newcastle which may be converted to a Qantas reservations and frequent flyer inquiry office. The sacked Impulse workers have not received any union redundancy payment or other benefits, only the barest minimum package required by law. This is because they were employed under individual work contracts, the result of a concerted anti-union drive by the airline. The remaining former Impulse employees are now working with Qantas on lower pay and poorer conditions than the unionised Qantas workers. The ACTU said that Impulse has treated its staff like second-class citizens under the non-union individual contracts and called on Qantas to put a stop to it. "Impulse promised these workers the world to get them to sign away their employment rights in non-union contracts, then it sacked them without notice", said ACTU Secretary, Greg Combet. "We're very worried about the other former Impulse workers who are now with Qantas. We urge Qantas to give them the same security and offer them the same terms and conditions as its other employees who are doing the same job." The Qantas-Impulse deal also exposes the real meaning of the deregulation of aviation and the so-called "competition" between airlines: that it is actually about monopoly and the dominance of the big players over the small. The real battle of the skies is being waged on the ground — the path to "competitive" airfares is littered with workers" wages, conditions and union rights. "Qantas and Impulse did the deal, and because Impulse was in dire straits - - their backers pulled out — and they didn"t really have anything in place", Australian Services Union organiser Steve Bower, told "The Guardian". "And so the staff put up with two weeks of absolute uncertainty about what the situation was." He said neither company would tell the workers or the union anything. "Then, with no notice, at 10.30 in the morning management walked out and said, "You all finish tonight"." Mr Bower said the union believed there were plans for the Newcastle centre to become a contracted Qantas frequent flyer centre but that Impulse was required to keep it open for two years under an arrangement with the Federal Government, which funded the centre as an employment program. "We're trying to negotiate an award for the ground staff and the call centre for what's left of Impulse. At this stage we believe the call centre workers will keep their jobs, but we don"t know what the work's going to be. We understand that the contract Impulse signed when they got the [government] money says there's got to be a specific number there."