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QANTAS passengers facing turbulence

The World Today - Thursday, 19 June , 2008 12:19:00

Reporter: Alison Caldwell

ELEANOR HALL: QANTAS has confirmed that next week's aircraft engineers' strike will delay flights
and disrupt passengers, but the management at the airline says it won't negotiate with a gun to its
head.

The union though counters that for 18 months QANTAS has refused to change its tune on the pay
dispute and the union now has to resort to drastic action.

In Melbourne, Alison Caldwell reports.

ALISON CALDWELL: Just when you thought you could rely on QANTAS to get you from one place to
another on time, a series of rolling strikes will disrupt flights from Monday next week.

KEVIN BROWN: We've offered to meet on several occasions now and at least on two occasions they've
threatened us with strike action, having said we'll meet. And we've said we won't meet with a gun
to our head and we're not going to change our position on that.

ALISON CALDWELL: Kevin Brown is QANTAS' executive general manager of people. He says the airline
expects to fly the majority of its network and get people to their destinations on the day they
choose to fly but:

KEVIN BROWN: There will be some delays. It's a little hard to predict exactly how long those delays
will be.

Last time when the ALA decided to disrupt our customers and impose their strikes, what we found was
that about half the people travelled within 15 minutes of when they planned to but the other half
were delayed by, in our international operations, up to six hours and in some cases domestically
about an hour and a half.

ALISON CALDWELL: Members of the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association will walk off
the job from 2am 'til 6am in Melbourne on Monday.

In Sydney, afternoon and evening flights will be delayed and possibly cancelled by the strike
action. In Cairns flights will be disrupted all day due to the engineers' strike. Perth and
Brisbane will be affected Tuesday, with rolling strikes expected throughout the week.

It's the result of an 18-month long pay dispute during which both parties have refused to budge.
The union wants a five per cent wage rise on behalf of its members. QANTAS has only ever offered
three.

Overtime bans and strikes are affecting QANTAS' bottom line, but it won't say by how much.

Kevin Brown was asked if the strike was costing more than the entire cost of the union's pay claim.

KEVIN BROWN: No. At this stage, no it's not. And nor do we expect it to be. Our issue is that we've
got a very large workforce, 38,000 people, and if we flowed a two per cent pay increased on top of
the three we're already offering, remembering we're offering three per cent pay plus one per cent
into super, so if we offered another two per cent on top of that it would cost us $360-million
cumulatively over three years, which a huge number.

ALISON CALDWELL: The union recently offered a deal that would involve staff moving through the
career grading system faster. QANTAS says it would inflate their pay claim to 5.7 per cent.

Kevin Brown again.

KEVIN BROWN: They continued to ask for more and more and until we can meet and sort through this
properly, which is not going to happen while ever they threaten us with strikes, it's unlikely that
we're going to get to closure.

STEVE PURVINAS: It's nice to hear the words of Kevin Brown who had a 40 per cent pay rise himself
last year, 10.5 the year before, seven the year before and 111 per cent wage increase the year
before that.

ALISON CALDWELL: That's Steve Purvinas, the federal secretary of the Australian Licensed Aircraft
Engineers Association. He says next week's strike action won't be as bad as people think.

STEVE PURVINAS: We've constructed it in a way that we think is responsible. We've said in the major
ports - Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne - that only half the workforce are going to come out at any
one time.

We've got some serious concerns about safety if they go down the path of the other option, that is
deploy the strike breakers.

Strike breakers were deployed several weeks ago when we had some stoppages and carried out many
unsafe acts that we wouldn't see from a normal QANTAS engineer.

Like for example, the very first aircraft they went to push out, they forgot to take out the blocks
of wood that sit behind the wheels and they tried to push the aircraft. So it's, when you're making
fundamental mistakes like not removing the chocks behind the wheels well then you've got real
problems.

ALISON CALDWELL: The union blames QANTAS for escalating the dispute.

STEVE PURVINAS: And they start docking people's wages for doing things that they're not legally
allowed to do in the first place such as carrying out duties on aircraft that they're not licensed
to work on. They've been asked to carry out these duties and then when they say no they say, well
you're not following our direction, we're going to take some pay off you today.

ALISON CALDWELL: The World Today sought a comment from the Workplace Ombudsman. In a statement it
said it was unaware of the specifics surrounding the case, however, it said "to the extent that
employees have rendered service which has been accepted by the employer, the employee should be
paid".

QANTAS' Kevin Brown contacted The World Today to respond.

KEVIN BROWN: I say to any comment from anyone, first of all, one, we'll comply with the law and the
law requires that employees are docked four hours' pay when they participate in industrial action.
And the second thing is that when employees participate in illegal action, we'll use the full force
of the law available to deal with that.

ALISON CALDWELL: Shouldn't they be paid, let's say an employee works six hours, then you say, we
want you to work overtime and they say no, I've worked my six hours, that's all I'm going to do -
shouldn't they be paid for that six hours?

KEVIN BROWN: We have asked people to do additional overtime which they've refused to do. We
actually need to get them to work the overtime because our planes are late coming out of the sheds
because of the go-slow program. In our view that's illegal action on their behalf and we'll work
within the law as to our actions.

ALISON CALDWELL: Isn't it the case that you're asking some of these employees to do things that
they're not licensed to do?

KEVIN BROWN: No, we're asking employees to do things for which they're both qualified and
experienced to do, as we have always done at QANTAS.

ELEANOR HALL: That's QANTAS' general manager of people, Kevin Brown, speaking to Alison Caldwell.