Yesterday’s decision by Fair Work Australia to terminate the fractious Qantas dispute gives the lie to the continuing criticism from business about the Fair Work Act somehow being pro-union.
Qantas has successfully exploited the national interest provisions of the Act to prevent the continuation of a dispute that Fair Work Australia found was not damaging the industry and which was capable of successful resolution by negotiation. The relevant unions had at all stages of the dispute acted within the constraints of the Fair Work Australia framework. It was Qantas and not the unions, FWA found, that was threatening the economy and, particularly, the tourism industry, with its wildcat actions.
Even so, by halting the dispute and forcing the parties to negotiate or face arbitration, FWA has rewarded Alan Joyce for his decision to cause massive dislocation through the Australian transport system, and vindicated the imported CEO. The Qantas board will be delighted their man has chanced his arm and won. The company’s share price this morning has reflected this.
How the public react, however, remains to be seen. There is deep community disquiet, not to say anger, about both the overall direction of Qantas and its decision to completely disregard the interests of the travelling public. The “slow burn” of which Joyce complained may yet come not from its staff, but from its customers — ex-customers.