Jun 242008

I can’t help but draw some parallels between the current QANTAS engineers payrise stoush, and the 1998 waterfront dispute.

The only elements missing seem to be John Howard and Peter Reith, attack dogs and hired thug-handlers in balaclavas. Listening to Geoff Dixon on PM this evening, I couldn’t help but feel that he was more about selling himself through touting the record profit year QANTAS will announce shortly, how weighty his responsibility is in terms of people numbers and dollars spent, how grandiose the bonuses supposedly doled out to all staff annually are, etcetera, etcetera. Geoff Dixon took home A$6m in salary & bonuses last year. He’ll take home more this year.

During the course of the interview, it was revealed that QANTAS has a couple of tactics up it’s corporate sleeve in case the engineers rolling strike action starts to bite harder. The interview revealed that QANTAS has a cadre of non-union engineers – private industry sourced – currently waiting in the wings should things get tough. QANTAS is already paying recruiters to keep these people

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on call. Then there was, what Dixon said he wasn’t saying, the spoken/unspoken threat to take major aircraft maintenance off-shore to the US. You can bet pounds to pennies that the threat isn’t idle chatter, but has already been scoped and costed.

This dispute has been ongoing for the past 18 months. QANTAS has been offering 3% in all that time. At one point, the engineers apparently accepted the offer, or were about to, when their Union stepped in, rejecting it in support of all members, not just those employed by QANTAS. One might wonder whether Union rejection of an offer, acceptable, apparently, to one workplace in favour of a seemingly unachievable goal which risks that workplace losing all as a result, isn’t sheer collective bloody-mindedness. It’s probably pertinent to realise that over those 18 months, costs of living in Australia have sky-rocketed. Petrol, grocery prices, mortgage rates, and so on. I don’t know what aircraft engineers get paid, but as with all salary earners, a life-style level tends to match the income available. Three percent would undoubtedly have vanished as if it had never been, which tends to justify the Union action in support of all members.

I have to ask, in all ignorance of the QANTAS financial position from the inside, given a record profit year in the face of increased costs and route cuts, would another two percent really damage the airline so much? I’ll bet Dixon nets much more than 2% over last years take home.

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