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ACTU incoming president, Martin Ferguson, rejects claims that the union movement is divided over the Government's and the airline's approach to the airline dispute

PETER THOMPSON: Yesterday, the Secretary of the Victorian Trades Hall, John Halfpenny, described the Prime Minister's tactics in the pilots' dispute as anti-union, saying that Mr Hawke could be a candidate for the right-wing think tank, the H.R. Nicholls Society. But despite criticism from some left-wing unions about the Government's handling of the pilots' dispute, the President-elect of the ACTU, Martin Ferguson, says there's no division in union ranks about the actions of the Pilots' Federation. Mr Ferguson told David Burgess that there's no justification for the pilots' actions.

MARTIN FERGUSON: The position of the Australian trade union movement is one of complete opposition to the current claims by the Pilots' Federation to break beyond the wage fixation guidelines and to achieve for themselves, as against the position of the trade union movement generally, wage increases far in excess of that which is permissible under the current wage fixation guidelines.

DAVID BURGESS: But we have heard criticism from a lot of left-wing unions, over the past week, and you signed a letter that expressed concern about some of the tactics being used. Does this indicate, really, that there is quite a bit of division of opinion within the ACTU about how this thing should be handled?

MARTIN FERGUSON: I don't think there's any division of opinion. Not one Australian trade union official has condoned the action of employers with respect to the use of sanctions, or the refusal to negotiate with the Pilots' Federation. But that's not to say that the Australian trade union movement regards the Pilots' Federation as a model of trade unionism. You should examine their history and whether or not they have stood by workers generally in the past.

But suppose the people that spoke out last Friday are bigger than the Pilots' Federation. We want to look to the needs of trade unionism generally. They are currently in a difficult situation, a situation of their own making but, having said that, we also clearly stated that the Pilots' Federation created this dispute through pursuing unrealistic demands. The settlement of the dispute is in the Pilots' Federation's hands, because all it requires is for the Pilots' Federation to sit down, under the umbrella of the Industrial Commission and a conference chaired by the President, Justice Madden, give an undertaking that they are prepared to fully explore the parameters of the national wage decision, and seek to negotiate an appropriate settlement.

DAVID BURGESS: But should the ACTU and the Government be doing more to get the parties together to, perhaps, get that sort of a settlement?

MARTIN FERGUSON: I think the Australian Government and, more importantly, the Australian trade union movement over recent days, has clearly indicated that it desires the dispute to be settled, but there are only a limited number of chances in life. The Pilots' Federation have had the olive branch on a number of occasions in recent days. On each occasion they have walked away from that olive branch because of their own pig-headedness and their own desire to operate in isolation from the rest of the trade union movement. I simply call upon the Pilots' Federation to face up to industrial and political reality, stop placing at risk the future of their own membership, and seek to work out an appropriate settlement. In every dispute, there must be room to manoeuvre, and a point of compromise. The point of view of the whole of the Australian working class - that point of compromise has come. Other workers' futures now are being jeopardised as a result of the action of the Pilots' Federation. No single union is above the trade union movement generally.

PETER THOMPSON: Martin Ferguson, the incoming president of the ACTU with David Burgess.