tip off

The good, the bad and the Qantas

Qantas et al:

Katherine Stuart writes: Re. “The remorseless logic and profound disdain of Alan Joyce” (yesterday, item 2). Being a “little guy” myself in a global industry that is one of the few actually growing in Europe in recent years — at the rate of close to 10% annually (you guessed it: the language industry!) — I have had plenty of first-hand experience of attempts to push me around by bigger, weightier players. Negotiating pay and conditions in such circumstances has taught me to be tough, but also that I am part of an industry, that we are all interdependent — that “no man (or woman) is an island” and all that stuff.

Most parties under these circumstances, even the bigger ones, do operate on the simple, “cold” logic on which our contract law is based: the bargain struck. Unless Alan Joyce is talking through his hat about the amount of damage to forward bookings caused by the rolling strikes, his argument that his action at the weekend meant that Qantas had been saved from a slow death by a thousand cuts seems entirely plausible. Attrition, which appears to have been the principal strategy of the unions in this dispute, is surely the most low-media-profile and most aggressive strategy open to any party in a dispute. So why should we be surprised if the response from Qantas was so strong?

If, in fact, “the government had been warned on numerous occasions that Qantas forward bookings had collapsed because of the uncertainty generated by the industrial action”, that it was “very clear that our longer term survival was in question”, and “the prospect of a negotiated resolution in relation to the three proposed enterprise agreements still remains”, then I really don’t understand how Bernard Keane can conclude that this makes Qantas or Alan Joyce an industrial terrorist. It simply means that Qantas’s action matched — in a high-media-profile, rip-the-Band-Aid-off-fast sort of way — what the unions had been doing for months on their side of the dispute.

The point of any aggressive action or strategy by a party in an industrial dispute is obviously to communicate dissatisfaction with the bargain being presented, and to force the other party to rethink. If Alan Joyce’s left-field action has forced both parties back to the negotiating table by involving the industrial umpire in a way that actually results in Qantas taking the rap, it looks to me more like a bit of an olive branch to an intractable child — not the actions of someone looking to destroy a national icon, or a profitable business. And while no time was a good time, doing it at a weekend was surely as considerate as possible of the impact on its passengers and their working lives.

Bernard Keane’s article on the whole sounds a bit too much like “the goodies versus the baddies”.

John Poppins writes: Re. “Union stirs up new turbulence for Qantas” (yesterday, item 1). Alan Joyce is attracting a lot of media attention to what appear to be his blind spots and excesses. It is hard to imagine that Joyce could be doing this without substantial board support.

It disturbed me very much when I checked into the background of Qantas’ chairman. Bloomberg’s BusinessWeek provides the following information:

Mr. Richard Leigh Clifford, AO, B.Eng. (Mining), M.Eng. Sci. has been a Senior Adviser of Australia operations at Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. since January 2009. Mr. Clifford has extensive experience of managing a business that operates in a number of global regions. Mr. Clifford served as the Chief Executive Officer of Rio Tinto PLC and its subsidiary, Rio Tinto Ltd. from 2000 to May 1, 2007. He has held various roles in Rio Tinto Group’s coal and metalliferous operations …”

An airline is much more dependent on widespread public goodwill than is a large resource company.

Rio is no friend to unions, or to the environment and the culture of indigenous peoples, as described in the book River of Tears and as experienced more recently by the Bougainvillians. KKR is a private equity company with an interest in buying and re-selling companies with a once respectable brand name but that have fallen on hard times. This is the sharp edge of financial manipulation and the extremes of private enterprise.

I may be paranoid but this is a dangerous game with very high stakes for customers, small shareholders and for our federal government.

Niall Clugston writes: Re. Yesterday’s Editorial. Business commentators (and Crikey’s editorial writer) seem to think Alan Joyce has “won”. Other commentators believe he’s damaged the brand.

Perhaps business commentators understand business better. But if so, why are they working in journalism? I don’t think the unions would be hailed as winners if a strike had been shut down so swiftly.

In fact, the question of win or lose can only be determined when the outcome of the forced arbitration is known.

Kerry Henry writes: Regarding the various stories in Crikey yesterday, well called by Alan Joyce. The public and business has been impacted by several “on again/off again” stoppages over the past six months, plus continued threats of more to come. Given the cost competitive, capital intensive nature of airlines, Joyce made the right call to achieve a resolution and avoid more waste.

Qantas has to be allowed to make the necessary changes to stay globally sustainable and secure its longer-term interests, otherwise we won’t have a Qantas. If that means carving up some of Qantas’s global workforce, so be it. Plus, how can any company guarantee worker’s futures? Even governments can’t do that.

Liven up Australia and re-invent, or become a backwater with significantly lower living standards for most.

John Thompson writes: I have no argument with describing Alan Joyce’s attitude as disdainful but I don’t know if there’s much logic. After all, surely he misunderstood his political “mate”, Tony Abbott’s, instruction to “stop the boats”, and stopped the planes, thinking that it might help slow down all those people intending to overstay their visas.

Andrew Haughton writes: Qantas is the Australian airline with Dublin efficiency and Belfast charm.

Afghanistan:

John Richardson writes: Re. “Memo troops: don’t get shot during a transport strike” (yesterday, item 5). Dr Rodger Shanahan suggests that our media would be grateful if our soldiers in Afghanistan could be a tad more co-operative and refrain from making the ultimate sacrifice on grand final weekends, during the Boxing Day Test, on budget night or during any transport strike, although I suspect that it wouldn’t take a lot of effort to find similar justifications for each and every day of the year.

But having rounded on the media for doing exactly what most of us want and expect it to do, perhaps we should reflect on the contribution of our vainglorious politicians to this obscenity, just as Jason Purvis of Balmain managed to do so eloquently yesterday in his letter to The Sydney Morning Herald:

What a warm glow it must give the nation that the only point of consensus in federal politics that is unworthy of any discussion or debate, is that we keep sending our boys off to Afghanistan to get shot.”

Martin Gordon writes: Re. “Richard Farmer’s chunky bits” (yesterday, item 12). I am not surprised at the cynical response of Richard Farmer and The Stump to the deaths of our soldiers of late. It is easy to live in Western country and expound all sorts of cynical views and propose no solutions to another “ism” which is repressing people or expanding.

As Christopher Hitchens found that he got sick of in effect defending the likes of Saddam Hussein, Milosevic, etc. But the left still acts to help these appalling people and causes by their cynicism.

Yes people die in wars, if you want “isms” to grow do nothing; they will happily fill the void. Ask the Libyans what their freedom cost in lives, not unlike those that resisted communism, fascism, etc?

For Afghans they are not “choosing” the Taliban it’s just they can take power and cow the population, just as in other nations that still are communist. In the past century repressive regimes killed far more people than the wars by a factor of about four times.

Will Richard and his ilk stand up for the oppressed, not likely, that would require principle and courage and proposing solutions instead of cynicism. Failure in Afghanistan will mean illiterate girls, repression of women, and many refugees (far more than we can imagine), and another base for Islamic fundamentalism.

My sympathy goes out to the soldiers and their families. The fight against Islamic fascism is being borne by very few and it is the entire population of our nation and others that benefit little appreciate the burden they bear.

Climate change:

Andrew Lewis writes: I cringe while I write, it’s just me being pedantic again, but I have to correct Louis Solomons (yesterday, comments).

In what can only be described as a total misunderstanding of the ways of science, Solomons suggests that scientific progress is irrefutable evidence that science has been wrong in the past. Wonderful contribution,  Solomons! Presumably the longer point of this non-sequitur is to suggest that the current understanding that climate change is man-made must also, by inference, be wrong.

Solomons, it may well be that one day we work out that climate change is not man made, but there is a pretty spectacular consensus on it at the moment, and your apparent argument that we should remain sceptical (and do nothing?) until we can know for sure misses the point completely. This is now a risk management issue, with a small cost if we act now, and a unimaginably large cost if not addressed and the science is right. Risk management, it’s not a scientific argument any more, and hasn’t been for a long time.

But that isn’t my real motive, and these arguments are well known to those who read. The error of Solomons ways was in suggesting that science used to believe that the Earth was flat!

In fact there was never a time in human history where mankind thought that the Earth was flat. There has been no recorded period in history where any scientific consensus existed that the Earth was flat, and an apparent period of popularity in that idea was in fact not at all widespread and not held by any scientists of the time, or any other time.

Stephen Jay Gould has written in some detail to correct the record. No doubt, eons after I am long dead, the scientific disbeliever will still be using this story to enhance his status as a dutiful sceptic.

The truth can be snuffed out with the slightest breeze, but a falsehood can live eternally. It is a non-scientific wonder.

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