The Guardian April 24, 2002


No such thing as a free bonus

by Andrew Jackson

Patrick Corp snatched up another slice of the Australian transport pie last 
week, taking a half-stake in Virgin Blue for $260 million. Chris Corrigan's 
treatment of workers in his interests in shipping, road and rail should 
leave workers questioning their choice of airline.

Celebrating the partnership deal, Mr Corrigan and Virgin owner Richard 
Branson dished out instant $1000 bonuses to all 1700 Virgin workers 
"because they have worked enormously hard".

And, no doubt, they can expect to work much harder in the future. The $1000 
deal is, no doubt, intended to lull them into a false sense of security.

Mr Corrigan's expectations of employees were made abundantly clear during 
his 1998 campaign of terror on the waterfront.

Patrick's website proudly states that their first three "Fundamental 
Objectives" are:

* an end to over-manning and restrictive work practices;

* higher productivity; and

* greater reliability through less industrial disruption.

Virgin staff might be interested to learn how Mr Corrigan carried out those 
objectives on his waterfront employees. His website proudly boasts:

"A new era of work practices on the Australian waterfront began with the 
full introduction of the Patrick enterprise agreements at all container and 
general stevedoring Ports.

"Over-manning ended with a reduction of nearly 50% in the full time 
workforce and rorts and restrictive work practices were eliminated.

"Overtime was reduced dramatically."

Yet under that hard exterior, Mr Corrigan apparently has a heart of gold: 
"simple and flexible working arrangements", and "a new bonus scheme ... has 
allowed employees the opportunity to earn more whilst spending 
significantly less time on the job".

Really.

However, another announcement made the same day does offer one glimmer of 
good news for former Ansett workers.

Virgin revealed it was negotiating to buy four of Ansett's terminals: 
Cairns, Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide.

The fate of Ansett's Sydney terminal, its most valuable asset, remains 
uncertain. However, the Federal Court finally ruled last week that the 
administrators in could sell the terminal in May.

Both Qantas and Virgin have expressed interest in buying, potentially 
sparking a bidding war and increasing the return.

The cash raised from the sale of the four terminals increases the prospect 
of a full termination payout to former Ansett workers.

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