Qantas forced to step back — for now
On August 26 all Qantas unions attended a briefing from Qantas chief executive Geoff Dixon following the company's end of year profit results. Like every year before it, Qantas' need for "cost savings" was a significant theme. Geoff Dixon announced a "sustainable futures" program, including: * a more "flexible" workforce, including casuals, labour hire and part-time employment, * a plan to divide the company into discrete profit centres, * the introduction of a value based (code for 'low cost') airline, to compete with the Virgin Blue market, * over a third of the $1 billion savings are to come from labour. Casualisation Qantas' plans to casualise 25 percent — and perhaps up to 45 percent — of its workforce was big news when it was announce last month. The position appears to have changed somewhat — perhaps, not surprisingly, following the strong reaction of unions and the considerable commotion in the press caused by the announcement. It appears that when Geoff Dixon talked about plans to casualise 25 percent of the workforce, he meant that this would include permanent part-time positions as well. When Qantas took the provocative step of employing labour hire workers on the Melbourne Airport luggage ramps they did not anticipate that all unions would act so swiftly to support one another. When other unions found out that Qantas intended to replace members of the Transport Workers' Union with 50 or more scab labour they rallied to support the TWU. The Company was forced to back down. The solidarity among unions has continued from that point and during the briefing by Geoff Dixon, Greg Combet, Secretary of the ACTU, made it clear to Dixon that all the Unions are sticking together to ensure the airline continues to be an employer that has real jobs with decent wages and conditions. The unions reminded Dixon that the way changes have been dealt with in the past is through constructive negotiations and consultation, not by one party introducing what was clearly a strategy based on confrontation. Announcements in the media without any prior discussion with the unions were not acceptable. Unions also made clear that a one-size-fits-all approach is not going to work and that the company must negotiate with unions to find the means to ensure the company's needs within the different parts of the business. Qantas cannot make unilateral decisions that will harm union members without there being a reaction. The unions warn that Qantas management may have softened its approach for now — but their agenda for workplace change has always been executed with a fair degree of aggression. Unions have stressed to management that they are open to change and are willing to discuss how to achieve a productive way forward — but that they reject the Reith-style tactics used against the MUA.