Though both sides remain at the table, there is little sign of progress as Qantas and its unions near the deadline to resolve their industrial dispute.
The October 31 ruling by Fair Work Australia gave the two sides 21 days to reach agreement or face binding arbitration, although Fair Work could also extend the deadline if there are signs of concrete progress in the talks.
So far, there appear to be few of those. Instead, the airline’s pilots union, AIPA, has launched a court challenge against the Fair Work Australia ruling that banned industrial action by both sides. AIPA argues that Qantas’s decision to ground all flights on October 29, which forced Fair Work to intervene in the dispute, was out of proportion with the pilots’ limited protests that included wearing non-regulation ties and making in-flight announcements. The other two unions involved in the dispute have said they are also considering court action.
Talks between Qantas and the three unions have continued. By the end of last week, Qantas said it had met five times with the pilots’ union, twice with the Transport Workers Union, and twice with the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association. Continued talks were planned talks with all three groups this week.
But as the weekend media rounds produced more heated rhetoric over the dispute, a poll showed Qantas lagging in the battle for public opinion. Six in 10 Australians disapproved of Qantas’s decision to ground its fleet, while only 36 per cent approved, according to the poll conducted by Fairfax and Nielson. Neither the unions nor the government fared dramatically better, however, with 49 per cent disapproving of the unions’ industrial action and 41 per cent approving. The government’s response to the crisis scored 46 per cent disapproval against 40 per cent approval.
Some good news for Qantas arrived in the person of Richard de Crespigny, the pilot who safely returned a crippled Qantas A380 to Singapore after one of its engines exploded last November. In an interview with The Australian, de Crespigny broke ranks with the pilots’ union, called for an end to “legacy practices” and said the airline’s future lies in Asia.