Qantas has agreed to possibly begin conciliation talks with cabin crew unions, after initially moving to terminate its enterprise agreement with the international cabin crew altogether.
The terms of conciliation or mediation discussions will be set as soon as Monday, following a hearing before the Fair Work Commission on Thursday.
Qantas announced last week that it had made an application to the Fair Work Commission to terminate the agreement due to “unworkable” rostering restrictions coded into the existing EBA.
The Flight Attendant’s Association of Australia later criticised the airline for making the bold decision, without first attempting mediation or conciliation with Fair Work.
By terminating the enterprise agreement, all Qantas international cabin crew will default onto the current Fair Work Australia modern award, which will not only allow Qantas to implement the roster changes it wants but will also see cabin crew wages drop.
This all comes after the most recent offer put forward by Qantas to the FAAA and the Transport Workers’ Union in their ongoing enterprise agreement negotiations was overwhelmingly opposed by cabin crew, with 97.5 per cent voting “no” to the deal.
In Thursday’s hearing, Qantas conceded to entering conciliation discussions with the unions and Fair Work, with Qantas’ legal team stating the airline wants to see the matter finalised as quickly as possible.
“There is a degree of time sensitivity to [this issue] … due to the pending resumption of relatively normal international flying in the not-too-distant future,” said Qantas counsel Matthew Follett.
Follett said that the last deal presented to the unions “was the best offer” that Qantas could make and disagreed with previous comments made by the FAAA that the two parties were close to making a deal.
“From our perspective, we’re miles apart on some of the fundamental key issues, we don’t see them being easily resolved but having said that, we’re not opposed to conciliation or further discussions, provided of course it doesn’t interfere with the timetable (of the termination application).”
Follett said that Qantas’ team was ready to continue with a heading from 17 February and hoped that the matter would be heard in full “before Easter at the very latest”.
The unions requested additional time to prepare for hearings, and a hearing date was set for after Easter.
However, with the two parties now open to conciliation meetings, Fair Work commissioner Ian Cambridge said the parties could resolve the matter sooner, either before a commissioner or an external mediator.
“I think there is some purpose served in trying to find an agreed position in all of this and trying to do that fairly smartly,” Cambridge said.
“I’d ask for the parties to consider that. Given the history of this, there might be some real benefit. I’m talking about a fairly hard-headed approach to get an agreed position on the various issues that are involved here.”
Cambridge said the parties have until Monday to provide advice on how conciliation or mediation can proceed.
Qantas said last week its decision to terminate the EBA was its “last resort” in order to “change restrictive and outdated rostering processes”.
The airline claims around 20 per cent of its 2,500 international cabin crew workforces are only permitted to work on one type of aircraft under the current enterprise agreement, which the airline deems “unworkable”.
However, the FAAA responded in a statement, claiming, “This is simply not the case. The FAAA is willing to allow all crew to work on all aircraft, just not on the terms put forward by the company.
“The FAAA has been willing to explore and has facilitated extensive flexibility to the company throughout the pandemic and beyond, where ‘business as usual’ flying has been largely non-existent.”
According to the union, Qantas’ allegedly “best offer” deal would see its international cabin crew take a real-world pay cut, with a two-year pay freeze and 2 per cent increase for the two years following, therefore “not keeping up with inflation”.
However, it appears the union was most insulted by the fact that the international cabin crew, perhaps most impacted by the COVID pandemic of all of Qantas’ workforce, and yet the proposed deal raised excessive “work-life balance concerns”, with poorer rostering conditions and increased standbys.
FAAA federal secretary Teri O’Toole said in the nearly 35 years that she had worked for Qantas, she had “never seen anything like this”.
“Crew bent ourselves into pretzels to assist the company during the pandemic and this is the thanks their flight attendants get.
“This is a very disappointing decision, and one management should be ashamed of,” she said.