Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
In London, the ILO Committee rejects the Australian pilots' complaints concerning their treatment during the pilots' strike

PETER THOMPSON: A bid by the Australian Pilots' Federation to win world condemnation for the Federal Government's actions, during the domestic airline dispute in 1989, has failed. The committee of the International Labour Organisation has dismissed pilot claims that it was denied the right to represent its members and the right to take industrial action, but the committee has expressed concern about Australian laws which allow severe sanctions against individual workers and unions for taking industrial action. This report from Agnes Warren, in London.

AGNES WARREN: The Pilots' Federation has been unhappy at the amount of time the ILO has taken to deal with complaints against the Government and domestic airlines. There's no doubt it'll be even more unhappy at the outcome. Sixteen months ago, the Federation took three issues to the ILO committee of Freedom of Association - the first, that by refusing to negotiate on the union's 30 per cent wage claim, airlines breached ILO conventions. The second related to the right to strike. Pilots claim the Government was wrong to use the RAAF and international carriers after pilots resigned en masse. The third complaint also centred on the right to strike and the handling of the union's nine-to-five industrial campaign.

The committee has thrown out all three complaints. It found the pilots were entitled to stay within or opt out of the wages system and employers could do the same. When the union opted out, airlines were under no obligation to negotiate. The committee said that mass resignations could be an exercise of the right to strike, but not in this case. By claiming superannuation entitlements, pilots severed all ties with the companies. On the nine-to-five campaign, it said in exercising the right to strike, workers must respect the law of the land. In boycotting their award, pilots were not acting in accordance with a reasonable law, and so deprived themselves of international protection of the right to strike. So, does this mean unions that strike against the wishes of the Industrial Relations Commission, do not deserve ILO protection? Breen Crichton of the ILO's Freedom of Association branch says no.

BREEN CRICHTON: Where the pilots came unstuck was the fact that they acted in disregard of legal provisions, particularly the provisions of the Industrial Relations Act, which the committee regarded as being compatible with the principles of freedom of association. So by defying those laws, the pilots deprived their industrial action of its character as a legitimate exercise of the right to strike.

AGNES WARREN: But the pilots have had a win of sorts, on the question of common law sanctions against individual workers and unions. The ILO committee is concerned at the $6.5 million damages award against the pilots' union and six of its officials. It says the Government should work to persuade airlines not to enforce the award and has referred the question of sanctions to a committee of experts which meets next month.

PETER THOMPSON: Agnes Warren in London.