Qantas  CEO Alan Joyce gave a speech at the Australian Institute of Company Directors in Sydney today which although less forceful than any given by his predecessor Geoff Dixon, managed to provoke an angry response from the pilot union, AIPA, and didn’t touch on a number of matters the luncheon may well have expected to hear more about.

For a start, Joyce didn’t attack Singapore Airlines or the government of Singapore, which has been a plank of Qantas managements past, even prior to privatisation. The off shoring of Australian registered wide bodied jets in Jetstar colors for operations between Australia and the Changi Airport hub under Singaporean industrial agreements is of critical importance to Qantas.

But Joyce did condemn the Australian and International Pilots Association for opposing the freedom of Qantas to pursue whatever alternatives it wished in developing the business.

Joyce said “…these union leaders have the gall to to accuse Qantas management of being unAustralian.

“My duty is to Qantas, today and tomorrow.

“I will never accept that Qantas has no right to explore all the options available in a modern globalised economy, because that would mean condemning Qantas to an inevitable decline.”

However according to the response from AIPA President, Captain Barry Jackson, Joyce has yet to turn up at the negotiating table.

Qantas pilots have been committed to negotiating in good faith, so this kind of unnecessary and inflammatory rhetoric is truly disappointing.

Instead of throwing bombs, Mr Joyce should join us at the negotiation table. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen him there to date.

Mr Joyce understands, or at least he should understand – given that negotiations have been underway for 12 months – that Qantas pilots are not demanding anything like a “job guarantee.” For him to deliberately deceive on this issue is, frankly, unbefitting the CEO of an iconic Australian company.

What AIPA is actually demanding is very simple: an assurance that experienced Australian Qantas pilots will not be replaced by non-Qantas pilots on Qantas aircraft.

It is truly worrying that we currently have a Qantas CEO who feels comfortable airily dismissing the safety concerns of Australian pilots as “an industrial tactic”.

The Australian public is justifiably proud of the safety record of their national airline. They expect Qantas CEOs to take the concerns of Qantas pilots seriously.

In his address Joyce claims that Qantas ‘came out of’ the GFC in better shape than its competitors. This is insupportable in terms of the two major Qantas competitors, Singapore Airlines and Emirates, or the stellar performance of its oneworld alliance competitor Cathay Pacific, although the Singapore carrier has recently posted declining load factors.

Since the GFC Emirates, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific have all been more profitable than Qantas, and grown in the Australian market at its expense, and unlike Qantas, paid dividends to their owners or shareholders.

It is these measures, profitability, market share and dividends that are most likely to be the metrics of concern to his audience earlier today, although a managerial inability to resolve labor issues inside of a year might also be considered sub par for a major Australian enterprise.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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