Pilots criticise grounding of Qantas fleet

Pilots call decision to halt Australian airline’s traffic over labour dispute a “calculated move” as negotiations begin.

Thousands of passengers have been stranded in airports around the world [AFP]

Qantas pilots have criticised the airline’s chief executive Alan Joyce over his decision to ground the Australian carrier’s entire fleet, calling it a “calculated move, which rips off passengers, shareholders and workers alike”.

More than 68,000 passengers across 22 countries have been affected since the airline halted all its traffic around the world on Saturday over a labour dispute.

Speaking at Sydney Airport, Richard Woodward, the president of the Australian and International Pilots Association, said the move was clearly pre-meditated to take place the day after Joyce’s $2m pay rise was approved.

“Alan Joyce obviously thinks Qantas is his personal plaything to use in his high-stakes game against pilots and other workers,” Woodward said.

“He is happy to trash the travel plans of thousands and thousands of passengers completely unnecessarily. And let’s be honest here, this was obviously not a snap decision. He would have planned this destruction months ago.”

The airline has been hit by a series of strikes over pay, working conditions and a plan to shift Qantas’ operational focus to Asia.

Joyce said the airline would lock out all employees involved in industrial action – pilots, engineers and baggage, ground and catering staff – from Monday evening without pay.

Government intervening

Concerned that the dispute posed a threat to the Australian economy, the government ordered the labour relations tribunal, Fair Work Australia, to intervene.

The tribunal reconvened on Sunday and negotiations began after a late-night hearing of the unions and the airline.

“I believe Australians want to see this sorted out,” Julia Gillard, the prime minister, said.

Qantas is the world’s 10th largest airline [EPA]

“Businesses want to see it sorted out. Passengers want to see it sorted out. I want to see this dispute sorted out. That’s why we have approached Fair Work Australia.”

Among the stranded passengers are 17 world leaders attending a Commonwealth summit in the western Australian city of Perth.

In its submission to the labour relations tribunal, the government asked for the industrial action to be terminated or suspended for 90 days.

Qantas, the world’s 10th-largest airline, is urging Fair Work Australia to terminate all industrial action. But unions want the action suspended so that the strikes can be resumed if their negotiations with the airline fail.

However, Joyce said on Sunday that the airline would not put its planes back in the air unless the industrial arbiter terminated all industrial action, ending the strikes that he said were “slowly killing” the carrier.

He said the lockout was a last resort aimed at limiting further damage to Qantas. Whatever the outcome of the tribunal’s meeting, Qantas said its planes would not be in the air before 01:00 GMT on Monday.

Three months of strikes have been costing Qantas $16m per week, with the total financial impact so far hitting $72m.

‘Boom for competitors’

Joyce estimated that the grounding would cost Qantas $20m a day.

Al Jazeera’s Andrew Thomas, reporting from Perth, said the suspension of operations had done “huge damage” to the carrier’s brand.

“You can imagine no one in their right mind will be booking Qantas flights for the short term, because they simply don’t know that they’ll be able to travel with them,” he said.

“This is a boom to Qantas’ competitors. Virgin Australia, the main domestic competitor, is putting on extra flights to cope with the overflow from Qantas passengers unable to fly. This is their great moment of opportunity.

“Likewise the Asian airlines that fly internationally into Australia are picking up a lot of the slack as well.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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