THE Qantas dispute did not just happen. It’s been simmering away for months. And, despite everyone including Prime Minister calling it a pay dispute, it is not about money.
There are no outrageous demands for massive pay rises. The unions involved in the dispute have asked for a 2.5 per cent increase in wages, just enough to keep up with inflation. What this dispute is all about is one fundamental question: Do workers have the right to object to the outsourcing of their jobs?
Qantas says no. Unions say yes.
Qantas boss Alan Joyce says it is reasonable and fair to take jobs away from Australians and give them to lower-paid workers in other countries. He’s not going to pay those workers what they would get if they were in Australia. They will not have the benefits and rights of Australian workers. They are just cheap labour. Australian Qantas workers, he claims, are too expensive and make the carrier uncompetitive in the global market.
But Qantas recently posted a doubling of its net profit, and Alan Joyce took a massive pay rise. As far as we know, he has no plans to outsource his job to a lower-paid executive living in one of our Asian neighbours.
A major concern to all should be that what Alan Joyce did was cause major, and possibly irreparable, damage on an iconic Australian brand. And Qantas is not just any old brand. It’s part of the Australian psyche. The symbol of the flying kangaroo is synonymous with this nation. But for how much longer?
If Qantas gets its way, how many others will follow? Professor of Law Ron McCallum, from the University of Sydney, said earlier this week that Qantas’ actions have opened a can of worms. He told the ABC that the lockout has left the door open for other companies to take similar action to “stop the unions from taking industrial action by this sort of close down.” In other words, it’s a way around collective bargaining. Many a corporate executive is waiting with bated breath to see the conclusion to this industrial disaster.
There is no doubt that this is a clash between living the Australian dream – secure work, decent pay for a decent day’s work, a home and having rights – and living in the global economy. Particularly among our Asian neighbours, workers have fewer rights, they are paid a pittance and few have secure work. That’s what Alan Joyce wants for Qantas workers, and by doing that he is holding all workers to ransom. He wants to turn back the hands of time and strip away everything that union members have fought for.
It’s easy to forget that without the union movement we would not have luxuries like paid holiday leave, superannuation, paid parental leave, sick leave and the 38-hour week; things we all take for granted.
Australia is surrounded by growing Asian economies. Yet workers’ rights there are still diminished and their work conditions are not necessarily dictated by a sense of fairness or strident occupational health and safety laws.
Competing in this market is difficult but not impossible.
Maybe, just maybe, if Qantas had a management regime that looked at the quality and history of the brand, they may be able to market their goods and maintain their profitability without taking it out on their Australian workforce.