Almost seventy thousand passengers in Australia and 22,000 around the world were stranded last Saturday when Qantas grounded its planes and locked out its workers.
It was a dramatic example of the contempt that the rich 1 percent has for the rest of us.
Qantas made a pre-tax profit of more than 550 million Australian dollars last year. Yet CEO Alan Joyce plans to axe 1,000 jobs—mostly pilots, engineers and cabin crew—and set up two new airlines in Asia.
A baggage handler’s base rate of pay is 38,000 Australian dollars. But just one day before the lockout began, Joyce got an obscene pay rise of 71 percent. It took his annual salary to just over five million Australian dollars.
Joyce was desperate to end the unions’ five month-long campaign for a pay rise and, most importantly, job security.
Grounding the planes was a blatant attempt to hold the country to ransom—and push the minority Labor government to intervene.
A government Act states that Fair Work Australia, the country’s industrial court, must suspend or terminate industrial action if it causes “significant” economic damage.
The Qantas lock out threatened to inflict massive economic damage, shut entire industries and inconvenience hundreds of thousands of people. Yet Labor prime minister Julia Gillard refused to condemn Joyce.
She claimed she didn’t take sides. But in Fair Work Australia the government sided with Qantas, arguing for an order an end all industrial action. That order came just 33 hours after the lock out began.
It could have been a different story. Union action could have won wide support—but the unions didn’t lift a finger when workers were locked out. Most people were disgusted with Joyce’s pay rise and blamed Qantas for the chaos.
One passenger told a local TV station, “It has made me think twice [about using Qantas] because I don't feel that treating your employees that way is fair.”
The unions now have 21 days to come up with a negotiated settlement—or the court will impose one.
Ian Rintoul is a member of the Australian socialist organisation, Solidarity