Qantas fight with unions to go to arbitration

SYDNEY — A bitter row between Australia’s Qantas and unions will go to arbitration after talks called in the wake of the shock grounding of its fleet failed to find a compromise, the airline said on Monday.

By (AFP)

Published: Mon 21 Nov 2011, 3:16 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 12:20 AM

Qantas and unions representing pilots, engineers and ground staff were given 21 days to resolve their long-running contract dispute after the industrial relations tribunal stepped in to order that the airline end the grounding.

But talks with the Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) and those representing pilots and engineers were called off before Monday’s midnight (1300 GMT) deadline after all issues could not be resolved, Qantas said.

“After six months of negotiations including over 20 meetings, extending the talks by three weeks would not help us reach an agreement,” Joyce said of talks with the TWU, which represents 3,800 ground staff.

“We made a generous offer which included reasonable increases in pay and conditions, protections on the jobs of existing Qantas employees and Qantas maintaining the flexibility we need to run the airline. The union rejected this offer,” he added.

“We did make some progress but we simply cannot agree to all of the union’s demands.”

On its 1,600 long-haul pilots Joyce said “some progress” had also been made and a number of areas might be able to be resolved but they needed Fair Work Australia to “bring the matter to a close.”

“Qantas did not terminate the negotiations today. Both parties concluded that an agreement could not be reached so the matter will be resolved by arbitration,” he said.

The Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association, which had continued talks until later Monday, said the matter had gone to arbitration.

“We’ve finished negotiations,” the association’s federal secretary Steve Purvinas said.

“We’ve just got a few outstanding matters that we are quite happy for Fair Work Australia to decide in arbitration.”

Qantas has vowed to abide by any rulings made during arbitration at FWA, a process likely to take some months, and Joyce urged the unions to do the same, also warning the TWU against a legal challenge.

“If the TWU launch a legal challenge against the decision by Fair Work Australia to terminate all industrial action, the federal government has indicated that they will vigorously defend the decision and are confident the TWU will not be successful,” he said.

“We are right behind the government on this.”

He made similar comments about an appeal by pilots against a total strike ban, sought by the government after Joyce’s snap two-day grounding of the Qantas fleet that left tens of thousands of passengers stranded worldwide.

Richard Woodward, vice-president of the pilots’ union, said they had sought an extension of the negotiating period and described the decision as “unfortunate”.

“Pilots have always been of the view that a negotiated outcome was eminently achievable,” Woodward said.

“Management... obviously believe that a decision achieved through arbitration is preferable.”

Canberra asked the FWA to intervene in the dispute after the grounding threatened to rock the economy, especially tourism, which is struggling because of the high Australian dollar and a series of natural disasters.

Unions are angry about Qantas’s plans to restructure its international business in Asia and want guarantees on wages, conditions and job security — demands the airline said were impossible to meet.

Joyce denied that arbitration was a victory for Qantas, saying that the “winners out of this are our customers... our employees and our shareholders.”

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