As a matter of opinion, there seems to be an element of hysteria in the Qantas management threats this morning to fire ‘innocent bystanders’ in the industrial disputes between the airline and its pilots, licensed engineers and ground handling staff.

The parallel with hostage taking is remarkable. Following on so far unsubstantiated death threat claims, now under police investigation, the airline is lashing out with threats to harm employees not involved in the dispute in what might reasonably be seen as a brain fade or dummy spit by Qantas CEO Alan Joyce.

The stance by Joyce also needs to be considered in the context of industrial law.

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Joyce is reported as threatening such dismissals if the unions don’t call off their campaigns.

However these campaigns comprise protected industrial action granted under strict conditions by Fair Work Australia after the unions involved in the dispute met the various tests of having attempted to resolve their differences with Qantas in good faith.

In an interview on ABC News 24 this morning the transport minister Anthony Albanese, agreed that the government could use its powers under the Fair Work Act to intervene and force a resolution of the differences between the parties if the national interest was affected.

However yesterday Virgin Australia detailed how the loss of capacity claimed by Qantas, of 88,000 seats per month, had been offset by its adding 124,000 available seats over the same period.

It also confirmed that it was negotiating with alliance partners Etihad and Air NZ for them to take over some of its long haul lift in order to redeploy more of its international 737 and 777 capacity on domestic routes.

In the circumstances this makes it clear that while Qantas is being harmed by the disputes the national interest has survived unscathed.

While on the topic of the national interest, it might be useful for the government and opposition to ask how the Qantas plan to halve its capacity on the kangaroo routes to London from early next year is in the national interest, particularly when Qantas is giving that capacity away to British Airways in order to divert resources into a minority owned Singapore flag carrier venture called Red Quitter or some similar nonsense with jets that won’t even have the range to fly non-stop to SE Australia.

In short, there are some serious questions to ask about what Alan Joyce and chairman Leigh Clifford are really on about in their illogical claims to be gutting Qantas in order to make it stronger by turning to minority Asian controlled entities  subject to what appear to uncertain negotiations with Singapore or Malaysia as the alternative solution to its aversion to being Australian.

It can be argued that Qantas should be free to destroy what’s left of its international operations as it sees fit. It did make a supreme effort to do this with the failed private equity buyout of 2007, and its fleet, product and network decisions have been mediocre and harmful in this writer’s opinion and the opinion of others.

But is there a government role in saving Qantas from itself, or is it all too late now that it is down to a mere 18% of international long haul lift out of Australia anyhow.

Qantas is seriously and purposefully irrelevant to international tourism. Where exactly is the national interest in facilitating its Asian adventures? This is not a criticism of Asian adventures or the franchising of the Jetstar brand per se, but comes with significant safety and industrial equity questions with the added baggage of rotating exhausted Asia based flight attendants through Jetstar domestic services at the end of 20 hour shifts.

There are surely questions of national importance in moves that would import external safety and training standards onto domestic sectors.

Back on matters strictly industrial, whatever the failings of the various union cases, a management that has been unable to properly maintain its aircraft since at least 2007 without compulsory overtime isn’t managing efficiently. Nor is it efficient management to allow industrial negotiations to drift on for so long that Fair Work Australia actually permits the unions to launch campaigns of approved court protected industrial action.

At the end of the day more Australians may start asking, do we really need Qantas? Is this company’s interests really our interests?   Is it special, or has it descended to just being a sham? Has it made a nonsense of the Qantas Sale Act, and of equal importance, does all of this make a case for actually abolishing that act completely?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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