We told you first folks. It looks like the great showdown of 2004 between Qantas staff and management is now set to happen.

Qantas’ current advertising campaign for its domestic services say there’s ‘more than a seat’ to the business. There certainly is and that is what’s upsetting a lot of travelers. The seats are fine. It’s the way Qantas treats passengers into and out of the seats that’s upsetting more and more people.

From the oil price rise levies that have a hint of gouging, to planes delayed, late or cancelled, poor service on the ground, delays at counters, inadequate schedules with services being consolidated at short notice to drive up yields (profits), it’s making a bit of a mockery of the Qantas approach to selling itself.

It’s as though the problems are not there.

Then there’s the sour and unhappy staff, no doubt all of whom know of the attempts by the airline to build a strike-breaking force that Crikey has been talking about for more than a month and which finally hit the news today.

Here’s our story of September 22. Now Qantas and the Flight attendants union have been told to talk on the issue, as this SMH story says today.

That oil price surcharge drew comments from investment bank, ABN Amro that the price hike was not needed. That naturally challenged the word and wisdom of the airline and chief financial officer Peter Gregg. Here’s his defence from Sunday.

All in all tough times for the Roo after its best ever year and the blizzard of reports from the board and CEO Geoff Dixon on the uneveness of playing fields here and overseas.

Of course, no word from chairman ‘Dame’ Margaret Jackson and CEO Geoff Dixon on attempts to tilt the playing field against its flight attendants ahead of a long-mooted contract brawl later this year.

But with the annual meeting in Brisbane on Thursday the relationship between management and its unions has obviously got the board and chairman alert and alarmed as you can see from this story.

The unions and those stroppy employees are obviously not playing by the rules, the rules the board set. How dare they! And remember the ‘Dame’ is part of the Business Council of Australia set that wants to see fewer and more restrictive annual meetings.

The ‘mushroom club’ is headed by Hugh Morgan, the BCA President. Again remember his time at WMC when shareholders were deprived of the chance to vote or consider an ‘offer’ of more than $10 a share from Alcoa of the US.

Hugh and the ‘Dame’ obviously don’t trust shareholders, especially those stroppy trade unionists, or those better performing industry funds that take corporate governance and shareholder rights very seriously, unlike many of the bigger private enterprise groups.

Union plans for a campaign of planned sickies and other passive resistance were revealed in the Murdoch press last week, drawing a tough-minded response from Roo management as you can see here.

But the court action today, while outlining the plans by Qantas to react to any breakdown of the EBA later this year, has not highlighted the intransigence of Dixon and his management to the union worries about the new London base.

With no agreement so far between Qantas and the Australian Services Union, negotiations for EBA VII have come to a grinding halt. Qantas have given nothing other than maternity/paternity leave which is only legislation anyway so it doesn’t cost Qantas anything.

With the AGM due in Brisbane on October 21, it will be interesting to see what shareholders think of the board members, and executives wanting to have the resolution passed that will see them receive higher pay and news bonuses and incentives (especially Dixon and Gregg). The proposed increase in maximum fees for non-executive directors from $1.5 million to $2.5 million looks excessive in the current circumstances and some institutions have indicated they will be voting against it.

On the other hand, the board and management have told staff that 3% pay rise is all they can afford in these troubled times of the airlines. But the company still continues to grow and expand and spend. It will be interesting to see what “Qantas ASU staff” will do if the resolution is passed, and the EBA is still not settled.

So, many questions remain unanswered. Reports from inside the airline say staff feel forgotten and unappreciated by management.
There’s some saying the they feel that the spirit of Qantas has abandoned them, even though they are expected to deliver the best in
customer service at all levels at all times.

The treatment of staff by senior management is hypocritical and the opposite to what they expect from their staff. Money has now become a big issue.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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