Anyone flying last weekend may have come across angry mobs of passengers milling around international departure lounges as Qantas, Australia's largest airline, dramatically grounded its entire fleet of "flying kangaroos". The reason for the grounding was not safety (no Icelandic volcano to blame here) but because Qantas took the unprecedented step of 'locking out' its entire workforce.
Qantas and a number of unions have for over a year been involved in a stoush as they attempt to negotiate new collective agreements. At the same time Dublin-born CEO of Qantas, Mr Alan Joyce (unaffectionately dubbed the "Irish Roo Shooter"), announced some significant structural changes to the airline. This has sparked job security fears among Qantas employees who claim their employer has plans to send their jobs out of Australia to cheaper labour markets.
To support its bargaining claims (which they say will help protect Australian jobs), the unions have engaged in protected industrial action which has included pilots making what are reported as "annoying statements" over the in flight PA system while wearing non-regulation red ties (which must have really hurt the airline!), together with baggage handlers and other airport based employees engaging in a series of rolling stoppages. Qantas claims this industrial action has already affected 70,000 passengers, led to the cancellation of 600 flights, caused $70 million in damages but more significantly led to a dramatic decline in forward bookings as travellers start using other airlines to avoid the uncertainty caused by the stoppages and to duck those annoying PA announcements. What fun a pilot could have on a PA with a captive audience – "Joyce – isn’t that a girl’s name?", "Have you seen the haircut of the chap in 3B?" or the definitive yell of "Oh no, we’re losing power to Number Three!" Obviously it will have been none of these, but perhaps next time?
So Qantas without warning took the unprecedented step of taking "employer response protected industrial action" by locking out its workforce on Saturday afternoon. This resulted in the grounding of its domestic and international fleet and the stranding of thousands of passengers (including our own Libby McLean who to her enormous chagrin has had to extend her holiday in Sydney - poor thing).
Citing significant damage to the Australian tourism industry (it is estimated that the lock-out was costing the Australian economy AU$250 million a day), the Federal Government stepped into the fray and asked the industrial relations umpire, Fair Work Australia (FWA) Home | Fair Work Australia to use its powers under the Fair Work Act 2009 fair work act 2009 - Bing to either suspend or terminate the protected industrial action. FWA granted the Federal Government's application in the early hours of Monday morning which means that neither Qantas nor its employees can take any protected industrial action for the next 30 days. FWA will also attempt to assist the parties to progress their negotiations for new enterprise agreements - mind you, a whole heap of FWA conferences to date do not seem to have helped the feuding parties.
Now FWA has told the combatants in this ongoing war to "take a moment" and the flying kangaroo is, for now at least, back in the air Australians can focus on that other very important nation-stopping event - the Melbourne Cup.