Qantas calls in Fair Work Commission to break logjam with international cabin crew
Qantas has applied to Australia’s employment umpire to end an agreement with its international long-haul cabin crew in a move it branded a last resort to change restrictive and outdated rostering.
The airline has told the Fair Work Commission there would be no job losses associated with the proposed termination.
It marks the first time Qantas has sought to cancel an enterprise agreement, and follows six months of negotiations with the Flight Attendants’ Association of Australia and other parties for a new deal that was rejected by both the union and 97 per cent of crew who voted.
Qantas said the four-year deal — sought to simplify complex and historical rostering conditions — included a pay rise and increased allowances. The existing deal means about 20 per cent of more than 2500 long-haul crew can only be used on a single type of aircraft, which Qantas says is unworkable as it seeks to recover from COVID.
Under the current agreement, international crew are limited to working on Airbus A330s only, or on Airbus A380s and Boeing 787s only. Qantas wants cabin crew to be trained to work across all three wide-body aircraft.
The airline said the need for change to rostering processes was recognised by the commission in an earlier decision relating to bargaining for the agreement.
It said the union’s counteroffer represented an “unworkable” $60 million cost increase over four years.
Qantas International chief executive Andrew David said the airline was “stuck between a rock and a hard place”.
“We’re seeking termination because we can’t effectively run our business without the rostering changes we desperately need to properly restart our international network in a post-COVID world,” Mr David said.
“The challenges facing airlines are pretty obvious and, even though we’re flying internationally again, it’s clear that we have to operate in a more agile and flexible way than we did pre-COVID in order to recover and match customer demand. The level of complexity we’re dealing with is huge.”
Mr David accused the FAAA or running a “scare campaign” against the new deal, claiming it would mean redundancies and sending jobs offshore. He said termination of the current deal would see crew revert to a modern award, which was the “safety net” for the industry, while a new agreement was negotiated.
“Given both the current agreement and the offer we put on the table have pay and conditions significantly higher than the modern award, we clearly don’t want to cut people’s pay,” Mr David said.
“Unfortunately, the process doesn’t let us pick and choose which bits of the current agreement are terminated in order to get the crucial rostering flexibility we need.
“I know our people will be disappointed that it has come to this and so are we. We’re open to putting the same deal that was rejected back on the table, but that would require a change of heart from a union that has continually misrepresented the facts.”
The Fair Work Commission is expected to study the termination application in coming weeks.
FAAA Federal Secretary Teri O’Toole said workers had negotiated in good faith, and she accused Qantas of using the rejected proposal “as an excuse to attack pay and conditions”.
Transport Workers’ Union Assistant National Secretary Nick McIntosh said Qantas’ “appalling behavior” would slash cabin crew pay by 30 per cent.
Michele O’Neil, president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, said Qantas was “threatening workers to try and force through a deal”.
Qantas’ international flying is expected to remain at about 20 per cent of pre-COVID levels for the next few months, increasing from April.
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