The damaging dispute between Qantas and three of its unions is likely to continue for months after talks collapsed yesterday hours ahead of a government imposed deadline.
The impasse means the parties will now head for binding arbitration before labour umpire Fair Work Australia, which imposed the deadline on talks when it ordered both sides to halt industrial action late last month. The arbitration process is expected to stretch well into next year as the umpire gathers evidence and hears from expert witnesses.
The increasingly bitter battle, which already saw Qantas briefly ground its entire fleet late last month, could still produce a new round of flight disruptions over the summer holidays. AIPA, the union representing long haul pilots, has gone to court seeking a stay on the ban on industrial action and the Transport Workers Union (TWU) is considering a similar move – though neither is considered likely to succeed. Workplace Relations Minister Chris Evans has warned that further industrial action by either side would be unlawful and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese yesterday called on the unions to let the labour umpire do its job.
Talks with the TWU, which represents baggage handlers and ground staff, bogged down over job security guarantees and the number of contractors Qantas wanted to use, while talks with pilots collapsed over the terms for efficiency gains of up to 20 per cent sought by the airline. But the dispute has also taken on a personal tone, with Albanese citing a lack of goodwill and mutual respect on both sides.
Both the TWU and AIPA yesterday accused Qantas of negotiating in bad faith and said the airline had preferred to let the disagreement go to arbitration all along.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce denied that charge but said the move to arbitration would allow passengers to “travel with confidence.”
The ALAEA engineers union, meanwhile, said it had made progress in its talks with the airline and welcomed arbitration as a way to sort out the remaining sticking points.