Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce could once again ground the airline’s entire fleet if unions push through union action, a former high-ranking employee warned.
Tony Webber, CEO of Airline Intelligence & Research and a former chief economist at Qantas, said the airline will likely rely on alternative staff to get through strikes, but Joyce could repeat his radical move from 2011 and shut down Qantas.
“That’s something that’s not out of the question for Alan Joyce,” said Dr. webber.
He shut down the airline in 2011 due to ongoing strike activity, so if he feels the terms or wage demands are unacceptable, that could be where the airline ends up and is shut down for a period of time. ”
Ground handlers of air services provider Dnata, which contracts employees with 20 airlines in Australia, including Qantas, will resign for 24 hours on Monday, September 12.
The strike involves about 350 workers in Brisbane, Sydney and Adelaide.
The New South Wales and Victoria-based employees of Menzies, a ground handling service provider, will apply to the Fair Work Commission to take similar action.
The Transport Workers Union said workers from both companies are pushing for more than 20 guaranteed hours per week for part-time workers and pay increases.
Although Dnata and Menzies are about to negotiate, the TWU has singled out Qantas’ low-cost contracts to put commercial pressure on the companies and avoid more favorable business deals.
“For many it is now a choice between striking for decent conditions or being forced out of the industry,” said Michael Kaine, national secretary of the TWU.
Grounding flights as a last resort
International flights are expected to be most affected by next week’s strike, but a Qantas spokesperson said: TBEN newspaper the airline has contingency plans to minimize the impact on international passengers.
These plans likely include asking senior executives to fill in the gaps, as they were asked in early August to combat ground handlers shortages, said Dr. webber.
While Qantas has not traditionally been in the habit of replacing ground workers with office workers, it has been willing to do so for years.
dr. Webber said that during his time as an economist with the airline, he also attended a training session around 2006 and 2007 to prepare him for various roles as a contingency plan.
“They will have staff training to check in customers. They will receive staff training to unload and [load] luggage,” he said.
The upcoming strikes are the latest in a series of disputes between workers and airlines, particularly for Qantas, which has struggled to restore confidence among workers and passengers after mass layoffs early in the pandemic as the airline struggled to meet demand. when travel resumed.
In late August, Qantas engineers began strikes by delaying the start of each shift for a minute in protest at the airline’s wage deal, which included a two-year pay freeze, followed by a 2 percent annual increase below inflation and a $5,000 one-time bonus.
If the action does not produce a response, technicians can forego work for up to 12 hours at a time and refuse to work overtime.
Unions are in a “very strong” bargaining position as airlines struggle to get workers with the country’s labor shortage, said Dr. webber.
If Qantas is shut down, passengers not yet flying will have to rebook their flights for later in the year or with other airlines, and will likely receive a Qantas credit in lieu of a cash refund.
This would be financially and reputationally damaging to Qantas, but it is not unprecedented: In 2011, the abrupt shutdown of the Qantas fleet and the cancellation of more than 440 flights affected approximately 70,000 domestic and international passengers without warning.
At the time, Mr Joyce said unions were “deliberately destabilizing the company” with no end in sight.
“That’s the worst-case scenario,” said Dr. webber.
”But if [industrial action] continues to happen, the worst-case scenario will occur.”
Unions and bosses go head to head
Qantas did not provide TBEN newspaper with comments regarding the possible grounding of its flights, but negotiations over the company agreement are a matter for Dnata and its employees.
A Dnata spokesperson told TBEN newspaper the company must ensure its operations are financially sustainable to provide consistent groundhandling and freight services, but hopes to reach an agreement this week if the case returns to the Fair Work Commission.
“We are disappointed that we have not been able to reach an agreement with the negotiating representatives to date, despite offering reasonable pay increases and higher average earnings than our competitors,” said the Dnata spokesperson.
A spokesman for Sydney Airport, which has seen quite a bit of chaos this year due to staff shortages, says the airport hopes the latest issues can be resolved as soon as possible.
“We are in the process of preparing contingency plans and will have additional customer service personnel in the terminals to assist passengers,” the spokesperson said.
“People traveling on Monday should monitor the situation closely and check with their airlines about the status of their flight.”