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Thursday, 16 February 2012
Page: 1652

Qantas


Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (14:21): My question is to the Minister for Workplace Relations. Last year, in the face of Qantas's plan to start cutting jobs and offshoring, Qantas workers were bargaining for job security provisions. Qantas then used an industrial atom bomb to end bargaining by grounding the nation's fleet. Now, 500 Qantas workers are losing their jobs, with more to follow. Minister, do you agree that we need to change the Fair Work Act so that employers like Qantas cannot disrupt the economy as a legal tactic to avoid bargaining about job security provisions?


Mr SHORTEN (Maribyrnong—Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation and Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) (14:22): I would like to thank the member for Melbourne for his question, and recognise his ongoing interests in the issues to do with industrial relations.

As I have said before, I do consider that the actions of Qantas in grounding their whole air fleet and stranding tens of thousands of passengers and thousands of their workforce all over the world as an extreme action. I do agree with some of the member's question, or the implication in it, that this was a very, very extraordinary action. But I also recall last year that, courtesy of the Fair Work Act, the Gillard government moved swiftly to help Qantas and the parties involved in the dispute resume operations. We asked Fair Work Australia to intervene. Within 36 hours of the grounding of the air fleet Fair Work Australia had, in fact, terminated all industrial action.

I can also update the member for Melbourne that, utilising the current Fair Work Act, Qantas and the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association have now reached an agreement—they have reached a workplace determination. I also know that the pilots and the Transport Workers Union are both working through their issues with Qantas. These processes are under the Fair Work Act, and they are working.

On this side of the House we understand that people go to work and seek a mutuality of cooperation. They would seek that the enterprise is profitable and they would seek that they receive fair wages and safe work. We understand this. We understand, for instance, that in the last quarter—the September quarter of last year—there were 1,912 agreements reached, of which there was only any debate or disputation in 66 of them.

We also understand that periodically parties may not agree. I do not believe that there is a spate of lockouts in this country. Also, I do not believe that there is a spate of industrial disputes and indefinite strike action in this country. I do reject the assumption in the member's question that somehow Qantas's action will be repeated by a range of other employers. We have not seen this to be the case.

I believe that the current system does allow people to reach negotiation. We, on this side, believe in enterprise bargaining, as opposed to those on that side, who believe that the management is the enterprise and the workers are the bargain. We do believe that people should have the ability to have their point of view heard at work, and we do believe that employers have rights to pursue their agenda and to pursue their rights under the act.

We also believe on this side in this place that, fundamentally, indefinite strike action and lockouts are absolutely the undesirable last resort. But we are not going to ban lockouts and we are not going to ban strikes in Australia because that is the slippery slope to dictatorship.

I thank the member for Melbourne, and I know that whilst he is willing to raise industrial relations there are a lot of people opposite who have private views on workplace relations but they have not got the guts to admit what they really think. (Time expired)