The Guardian May 30, 2001


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."

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