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Employment and Migration Blog

Qantas: where are they up to?

Posted by Stephen Booth on 17 Jan 2012


QantasIt is in the nature of our media-saturated world that crises occupy all attention for “15 minutes of fame”, and then subside again, so those not directly involved lose the track of the story, till the next crisis.

So what has happened to the Qantas dispute? 

Essentially, the wheels set in motion by the Qantas grounding, and the orders of FWA on 31 October, continue to turn, but out of sight.  There having been no private resolution within the 21 days allowed, the disputes are now set up for formal arbitration by FWA in March 2012.  The general expectation is that, when imposing a deal on the parties, FWA will not override Qantas’ management prerogative to the extent of interfering in decisions about off-shore operations and staffing.  Certainly it seems to be Qantas’ calculation that it will get a better deal out of FWA than directly with the unions, and by a route which precludes ongoing industrial action.

Questions about the legitimacy of Qantas escalating the dispute in order to persuade the Government and FWA that industrial action was serious enough to justify FWA intervention – pulling oneself by one’s own bootstraps - remain unresolved, but the pilots’ union (one of 3 involved in the dispute) is taking this issue to the Federal Court.  Their argument is that since the pilots’ only industrial action consisted of in-flight announcements and wearing red ties, the quashing of that action along with the rolling stoppages by transport workers and engineers, was so disproportionate as to be invalid.  It will be interesting to see the outcome of that, but it seems unlikely to derail arbitration, since the outcome would only relate to the pilots.

The parties going to arbitration also reflects the theatre I mentioned in the 31 October blog:  for both sides, being told to back down by FWA is less difficult than making that decision themselves, in front of their respective stakeholders, given all the effort and rhetoric applied to date.  We’ll keep you posted as this progresses.

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