Qantas uses economic conditions to sack workers
Last week Qantas management announced that it was going to sack 1700 of its workforce. This comes on top of recent reductions equivalent to 3500 full-time positions. The company pleaded financial problems, pointing to the downturn in the industry since the start of the war and the impact of the SARS virus in Asia. The Australian Services Union (ASU) described the company's actions as short-sighted, with the company acting in undue haste. For some time now the company has been using the depressed economic conditions in the aviation industry to argue against wage rises and defend attacks on the working conditions of its staff. Yet Qantas made a profit of $350 million last year, some of which could surely be used to maintain jobs and services during the downturn. Assistant National Secretary Linda White said that Qantas had not informed ASU members who was being sacked or when the sackings would occur. Ms White said the union expected to be holding series of meetings over the coming weeks and would be demanding that Qantas abide by its enterprise bargaining agreement provisions. Under the existing agreements, there are a number of steps that must be exhausted before redundancies can be made. These include: 1. Redeployment and/or job swapping where there is a reasonable skill and location match. 2. Employees taking extended leave and exhausting accumulated leave. 3. Employees taking periods of unpaid leave. 4. Full time employees converting to part time. 5. Full time employees converting to jobshare. 6. A process of expressions of interest in which are suitable number of volunteers may be found. The day after Qantas announced the job cuts, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and equivalent body in New Zealand issued a draft ruling rejecting its proposals for a $550 million investment in Air New Zealand. Qantas management has expressed outrage at the draft ruling that a proposed alliance between Qantas and Air New Zealand is not in the public interest and should not proceed. Under the alliance, Qantas would gain a 22.5 percent stake in Air New Zealand and the airlines would agree on flight schedules and fares on common routes. This agreement would particularly affect passengers travelling between Australia and New Zealand. The Trans-Tasman route, which accounts for 16 percent of all travel to and from Australia and is the biggest sector of the national air passenger market. It is a crucial transport link for both countries. The agreement would mean that Qantas would dominate the route and could set exorbitantly high (monopoly priced) fares. The ACCC warned that it would also jeopardise competition on the vital Australia/North America route, on which Air New Zealand no longer operates. At the moment the two other carriers on this route are United Airlines and Air Canada, both of which are in financial difficulties. ACCC Chairman Professor Allen Fels commented: "If the proposed alliance goes ahead they will jointly control more than 90 percent of the (trans- Tasman) market. The market would move from a two-airlines market to an effective one-airline market. "Passengers will be denied choice and increased air fares will be inevitable. Even if Virgin Blue enters, the alliance would still dominate the market. . "The Alliance would deter Air New Zealand from re-entering the (Australia/North America) route and providing critical competition to Qantas if either of the other operators . falters, as is currently conceivable." In this situation Qantas would also be left as virtually the sole operator on this route. "In Australia, the proposed alliance would see Qantas domestic operations capture those passengers flying internationally with Air New Zealand. .. The alliance would shrink the portion of the domestic market available to other carriers and constrain them from entering or expanding that market", Mr Fels said. It is clear that as long as Qantas' main purpose is to make profits for shareholders, it cannot ride-out the lows without causing pain and hardship to its workforce. There is only one way of overcoming that — that is by returning the national carrier returned to public ownership and control.