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Transcript of Interview David Speers: SkyNews PM Agenda: 20 October 2011: Qantas

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Ministers' Media Centre Education, Employment and Workplace Relations portfolio

Interview - SkyNews PM Agenda

Thursday 20 October 2011 Transcript

Senator the Hon Chris Evans [link:/evans]

Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations • Leader of the Government in the Senate •

E&OE TRANSCRIPT Interview with David Speers SkyNews PM Agenda

Issues: Qantas

DAVID SPEERS: We’ve just heard one of the unions involved in the industrial dispute with Qantas has extended a bit of an olive branch, suspending industrial action for the next three weeks but remains still poles apart from where Qantas is on the issue in dispute - pay

and conditions. What’s the Government doing about this? Workplace Relations Minister Chris Evans joins us now from Canberra. Minister, thanks for your time. The Prime Minister today urged both sides to sit down and resolve this. What will it take for the

Government to intervene?

CHRIS EVANS: Well the Government’s been active in talking to both the parties and trying to assist in any way we can to resolve the dispute. Both the Transport Minister, Mr Albanese, and I have been working with the parties, but I think they have been a long way apart and we’d be concerned now that dispute is dragging on and we’d like to see the parties honour what they say they want to do, which is negotiate a settlement.

SPEERS: Do you welcome the announcement this afternoon from the engineers’ union that they’ll suspend action for three weeks?

EVANS: Look, it’s encouraging news. I take it that it’s a bit of a peace offering so that’s pleasing. I’d also like to see Qantas respond positively to that and to try and make this a genuine breakthrough. I think we’ve seen a lot of tactical manoeuvres, a lot of talking through the media in recent weeks. We want to make sure the parties are genuine about trying to fix this problem because there are big issues at stake, they have been a long way

apart, and I think it’s going to take some really honest discussions to get a way forward.

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SPEERS: You know what Qantas has on the table. Is it a reasonable offer?

EVANS: Look, fundamentally I think this is about job security. It seems to me the sticking points are not so much the pay issues as the workforce’s concern about job security. I think Qantas workers are worried about the decisions that the Qantas board have announced, they are worried what it means for their longer term job prospects and when you talk to Qantas workers that’s at the heart of what they express to you. I think this is more than

about pay and conditions; it is about that fundamental issue of the future of their jobs, given the Qantas business decisions. Now Qantas have got a right to make those decisions, but equally I think we’ve got to find a way that it resolves its differences with its staff, that they can go forward with a joint commitment to the future of the airline which of course, is very important to the Australian economy.

SPEERS: Yes, but the Qantas position is obviously that this is an international market they are competing in, they are the only airline in the world that does heavy maintenance in Australia. Is the sort of restructure that they announced some time ago, to broaden their presence in Asia, is that really way out of line given the pressures they’re under?

EVANS: No, look I’m not critical of that decision. All I’m saying is that is unnerving for the workforce. The workforce wants to understand that there is a future for them in Australia, that they’ll continue to be an Australian airline, and I think it’s about having a better understanding of that. When I talk to the parties, I’ve found over recent months, they’re a long way apart in their understanding about what is going to happen in the future and I think that is why the dispute has been intractable, and at times bitter. So, I’ve offered, the Government’s offered, to play whatever role we can in bringing the parties together. I think today’s announcement is encouraging. I hope that it’s made with a genuine view to reaching settlements and as I say, I hope Qantas responds positively because the Government is concerned that this should not continue to drag on and I am worried when I hear people talking about this is going to be a long dispute. I want people to focus on fixing it, being honest with each other and looking for a solution.

SPEERS: What is your understanding of, you say they are polls apart on their understanding of what is going to happen in the long term, particularly in maintenance in Australia. What is your understanding of what going to happen at Qantas? Are we going to see a reduction in maintenance as the unions fear?

EVANS: Well, I think the unions are worried about the longer term and I think Qantas has not made announcements about some of those decisions, they are not ready to make those decisions. But I think the use of subsidiaries, the use of crews from other countries of origin, all those things have fed into this distrust which seems to be at the heart of this dispute. Qantas is a great Australian company, it provides a lot of jobs for Australians, good jobs, and the distrust currently in the Qantas environment is really worrying. So I think we have to try and get a better understanding of the issues, try and have some common ground about those issues, because fundamentally I think job security is at the heart of the dispute and I think if we can get a better understanding about those issues and the future of Qantas some of the other issues will fall away.

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SPEERS: Coming back to the Commonwealth’s role here there seems to be confusion too about what powers the Federal Government does have to intervene and what would trigger that. Can you explain to us exactly how and under what circumstances the Government might intervene?

EVANS: Well, the first point I want to make is that none of the parties are calling for us to intervene, none of the parties have sought us to get involved in the dispute, even though we have offered to privately play a role and I think they also have options under the Fair Work Act which they are not pursuing. But if the Government gets to a point when we think that

the damage being done by the dispute is of such a level that we ought to try and intervene we can seek to intervene before Fair Work Australia and ask them to make orders that might see a cooling off period or a suspension of industrial action. That is a fairly high threshold to meet but we have made it clear that unless we see some genuine negotiation that is an option the government regards being live.

SPEERS: So it’s a high threshold. The language that’s been used is “damaging the national economy”. How do we measure that? When do you know whether that threshold has been met or are we talking still a long way off, a lot worsening of this situation?

EVANS: Well there’s a couple of measures that have a lower threshold than that, but traditionally Governments haven’t intervened unless the damage is quite severe and the Commission or Fair Work Australia would only seek to make those orders if they were convinced about those thresholds being made. So, in the first instance it’s a decision for Fair Work Australia if orders are sought. So, I mean the damage has to be serious, but I think this is a serious dispute, people are getting concerned that it’s dragging on, the Government’s concerned that the parties haven’t been able to make real progress. There was a good sign yesterday, I think, with at least a consideration by the TWU of an offer from Qantas. So there was some real movement and engagement and obviously the offer by the engineers today to remove the bans is again a positive sign. So there have been some encouraging developments but we want to make sure that they are genuine and that we start to make real progress towards solutions.

SPEERS: And we saw today Webjet, one of the big online travel agencies, warning this is really hurting them as well. What about third parties here, what sort of powers do they have to try and seek some sort of resolutions?

EVANS: Well there are options for some third parties who have enough interest in the matter, but in the end these are decisions for Fair Work Australia. I mean I’d encourage the parties to use Fair Work Australia, some of them have but I think we’ve got to see that genuine commitment to try and resolve the dispute and some honest talking between the parties. As I say, I have been a bit disappointed that there’s been a lot of positioning in the media rather than actual locking themselves in a room and trying to thrash out the solution. So, that’s very much our focus, getting them into a room and working together to find a solution. As I say, I think we have seen some encouraging signs. I hope Qantas responds positively today and should allow us to give us a chance to make some real progress.

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SPEERS: Finally Minister, what’s the bottom line here? How long are you willing to allow this to drag on before we do start to see the Government step up at least to low level intervention? EVANS: Look I wouldn’t want to speculate about that but I think the Prime Minister, myself and other ministers have made it clear that we regard the situation as serious, that we accept that the parties tell us they want a settlement, they want to negotiate in good faith and they don’t want Government intervention. Well it’s time for them to walk the talk if you like. It’s time for them to deliver on what they say is their position.

SPEERS: All right, Workplace Relations Minister Chris Evans thanks for your time this afternoon.

EVANS: My pleasure.


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