Qantas has faced shareholder criticism on its method of paying bonuses and its transportation of asylum seekers on behalf of the Australian Government.
At Friday’s annual general meeting in Brisbane on Friday, Qantas chairman Leigh Clifford and chief executive Alan Joyce responded to a series of shareholder questions on the linking of $67 million worth of bonuses to new enterprise bargaining agreements (EBA).
Shareholders also debated a resolution proposed by the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) that called on the airline to review its approach to the movement of asylum seekers both around the country and internationally.
The $2,000 bonus for 27,000 non-executive employees was announced at Qantas’s 2017/18 full year results in August. However, unions argued it could be up to three years before those employees received their bonuses, given the need to have reached a new labour deal with the company.
Joyce told shareholders at the AGM the conditions regarding this bonus was the same as that was in place for the previous staff bonuses and expressed surprise and disappointment this round of bonuses had received such criticism.
“It’s being communicated the same way as all the previous ones were,” Joyce said.
“The reality is I think people should be looking at the glass half full and be positive about it.
“There’s not many companies that have given $300 million of discretionary bonuses in Australia.”
However, Australian Services Union assistant national secretary Linda White noted at the AGM the previous years’ bonuses were linked to a wage freeze.
“People feel really concerned about this,” White said.
Joyce said in response a question from White: “I don’t see you turning up to the Virgin AGM and saying to them what are you paying no bonuses which is the case for a lot of our competitors.”
“We are doing the right thing for our employees, we do it in the right way and we are very positive about it.”
One shareholder said the matter of the bonus had demoralised staff and was unlike any previous decision in relation to bonuses.
Meanwhile, another shareholder questioned the fairness of having bonuses tied to a concluded EBA, given it would deny staff leaving the company between now and 2020 a bonus.
Clifford said the board would not be reconsidering the conditions attached to the bonus.
“We understand that employees would rather have the full bonus paid immediately and we acknowledge that for some groups they will not be eligible for the bonus for several years because of when their next EBA opens,” he said.
“But these are the same conditions applied to the last three bonuses and those employees waiting the longest are also those who have had their prior bonuses paid most recently.”
Another condition that needed to be met in order to receive the bonus was that employees not harm the company. Joyce said in response to a question Qantas could define some industrial action as causing harm to the company, potentially denying bonuses.
Qantas says courts best placed to deal with asylum seeker matters
The other major topic of discussion at the annual general meeting related to the ACCR’s resolution proposing a change to the constitution to require Qantas to conduct a heightened due diligence process in relation to involuntary transportation activity on behalf of the Australian government.
It also called on the board to commission a comprehensive review of the company’s policies and processes relating to involuntary transportation.
ACCR executive director Brynn O’Brien said Qantas was either ignoring or failed to understand its human rights commitments in this matter and had “unwittingly waded into very dangerous territory”.
“What concerns me with this company, more than any other company I have engaged with, is our company’s refusal to think seriously and deeply about the issues we have raised,” she said.
“Our company has misjudged this, has misread the winds of community sentiment and the risk profile of these activities.”
Clifford called on groups such as the ACCR to leave Qantas out of its lobbying efforts to get Australia’s asylum seeker policies changed.
“We don’t believe the actions are really about Qantas at all,” Clifford said.
“It is about finding different ways to put pressure on the Australian Government and the federal opposition to change their immigration policy.”
“We believe these groups should take up these concerns with the politicians directly rather than use airlines and other businesses as part of the campaign.”
The resolution did not pass.