Subjects: Qantas Dispute
JOHN LAWS: Transport Minister, Anthony Albanese, maintains he was not given a clear or direct warning from Qantas management that the entire airline would be grounded on Saturday night or even that there was a possibility, apparently, of that happening. He’s been trying to get an informal settlement and like the Prime Minister was reluctant to step in until the drastic taken by Alan Joyce at the weekend. The Government is blaming its own legislation for its inability to intervene so who – so really what’s the point of the legislation? If it can’t help an airline stay in the air it would appear to me it’s absolutely pointless. Transport Minister, Anthony Albanese, joins me. He’s on the line now. Minister, good morning.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning John.
JOHN LAWS: There’s a lot of finger pointing this morning, isn’t there?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well there’s a bit too much finger pointing. What we’re pleased about is that Qantas is in the air and Qantas should spend more time helping customers who’ve been stranded by its unilateral shutdown of its own business and less time on trying to distance itself from responsibility for the consequences of its decisions.
JOHN LAWS: Do you believe that they are totally and solely responsible for this and did they have an alternative?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Absolutely they are responsible for this decision. This was a unilateral decision by their Board, on Saturday morning, just one day after their annual general meeting. The documents tabled at Fair Work Australia show that planning went back at least as far as 20 October. There was a risk assessment done of a lockout of its members. At no time did anyone either with the airline, any commentator, any journalist, any opinion writer suggest that there was a possibility that Qantas would make the extraordinary decision to lock out its workforce and therefore lock out its customers.
JOHN LAWS: So you – if fingers are going to be pointed, you’re entitled to point one too. I presume you’re pointing yours directly at Alan Joyce, are you?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well the company made it clear, on Saturday – Mr Joyce made it clear that this was a decision of Qantas. He described it himself at 5pm on Saturday, as a decision that was, quote unquote, unbelievable. You actually had situations whereby some people were on aircraft with doors closed…
JOHN LAWS: Yeah. Yeah. I know.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: …and they got offloaded. If you could have said to me, John, if you thought last week when you were doing your program, I wonder if Qantas will shut down their entire business on Saturday night, then you were more of a Nostradamus than I am.
JOHN LAWS: Can you tell me the sequence of events over the weekend? It seemed to catch you, and the Government, a bit by surprise. Can you tell me how it worked out?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’d gone to watch the Summer Hill Blue Under 11 cricket team in the morning, spent a bit of time umpiring and watching my son play and then we were just having a bit of a hit at Marrickville Tennis Club. I got a phone call from a staff member who informed me that he’d got a phone call from someone at Qantas saying Mr Joyce wanted to speak to me. I’ve got a good relationship with Mr Joyce. We speak a lot and so I expected a call. It didn’t come. I then attempted to ring Mr Joyce on three occasions and left a message for him. He rang me back. It must have been just after 2 o’clock because the last phone call from me to him was at 1:58pm. So he informed me that the Board had met. They had made a decision. I asked was there anything we could do? I expressed pretty clearly, my view that this was an extraordinary decision to take. He said that they’d made the decision to lock out its workforce from 8pm on Monday and that therefore because of safety concerns when the workforce heard about this, they’d had an assessment…
JOHN LAWS: Yeah.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: ..from their air operators certificate operator in terms of safety that they might be angry and that might pose a safety risk. Therefore they’d be announcing a shutdown at 5pm that afternoon. I indicated to him my surprise given that at no stage, either publicly or privately, had Mr Joyce ever asked for the Government’s intervention on this issue. The fact that there was no industrial action scheduled – the engineers had gone back to working, including working overtime, which before then they had had overtime bans on. There was no Transport Workers’ Union industrial action scheduled. The only industrial action which was scheduled was the fact that the pilots were wearing red ties saying, Qantas pilots should fly Qantas planes, or words to that effect in little letters on their ties.
JOHN LAWS: Yeah. Do you agree with that, incidentally?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I certainly think that in terms of the pilots – and that are the best pilots in the world, and I think they need to be treated with respect. I agree that the airline needs to change and needs to get productivity benefits. I had been supportive of moves such as some of the suggestions of the establishment, for example, of Jetstar Japan as a joint venture. I had expressed my support for that but there’s a common interest here between Qantas and its workforce and the decision to lock out the workforce, particularly under the circumstances as I expressed to Mr Joyce, on Derby Day weekend, the Melbourne Cup Carnival.
JOHN LAWS: Yeah.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We had the CHOGM meeting in Perth. I’d been discussing with Qantas, making sure that that ran smoothly. We were on show to the world and this was quite an extraordinary decision.
JOHN LAWS: Yeah. I think it’s a bit unfortunate that Mr Joyce is copping all the flack. After all it was the Board that made the decision. It wasn’t just one man.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Oh absolutely. That is absolutely correct and they’ve indicated that it was a unanimous decision by the Board. And I indicated also that to do it one day after their annual general meeting where the Board’s accountable to the shareholders – I mean, nothing was mentioned there about locking out the workforce…
JOHN LAWS: No.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: …is…
JOHN LAWS: So, in other words…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It really is extraordinary.
JOHN LAWS: …the entire Board, in your mind, has behaved badly?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: What we’ve seen is attempts in the press to somehow spin their way out of it, that someone else was to blame. Qantas had a number of options available to it, including the same section of the Act that we used to go to Fair Work Australia, section 424, could have been an application. They could have applied to Fair Work Australia at any time to say that the bargaining period should be terminated. There were a range of options available to them and one would have thought that normally you go through a series of stages. One would have thought that at some stage they would have called for the Government to intervene or given some heads up to the Government. I had had three face to face meetings with Mr Joyce in the previous eight days and had a number of phone calls, and at no stage – and Mr Joyce will confirm this. At no stage, either with me or anyone else, did he indicate that they were considering locking out their workforce…
JOHN LAWS: Do you think he…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: …in what led to the grounding of the planes.
JOHN LAWS: Do you think he knew at the time?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, what we now know is that a document was tabled at Fair Work Australia that this was worked through, a paper dated 20 October, about the consequences of a lock out of the workforce.
JOHN LAWS: Okay. Well where to now? The planes are flying. The strikes have ceased but there’s a good deal of ill will, isn’t there?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: There is, John. And that’s the problem with taking such a decision. And obviously people like the flight attendants, where an agreement has been reached, and the Australian Services Union, where an agreement had been reached and the AWU and…
JOHN LAWS: Yeah.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: …all of those staff were impacted as well. The customers, 68,000 people stranded. There’s been real issues and I was very critical of the union when one of the unions suggested that people shouldn’t fly Qantas. I publicly…
JOHN LAWS: Oh yes. Well that was outrageous.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Absolutely. It damaged the brand and we need to recognise there’s a common interest here between a successful Qantas and the needs of its workers. And what they need to do is get on, act like adults and get an agreement done.
JOHN LAWS: Are you likely to revise the legislation that’s in place now?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Oh look, that’s a matter for Senator Evans and the Government. It’s not my portfolio, of course, industrial relations. But can I say this, John, that the legislation worked pretty effectively? We got notice, you know, 2 o’clock…
JOHN LAWS: Yeah. Two.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: …Saturday afternoon. We were in Fair Work Australia that night and planes were up in the air yesterday afternoon. If you compare that with the sort of protracted disputes you’ve seen where you’ve seen – essentially this is radical action by the employers not by the employees. There’s no industrial action terminated from the unions except for the wearing of red ties by the pilots – by international pilots. But you compare it with what happened, say, with Patricks and the disputes in the past…
JOHN LAWS: Yeah. The [indistinct]…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: …that have gone on for months of legal action. What it meant was, because we used the appropriate section of the Act, we got an outcome to terminate all action. We’ll now have 21 days in which the parties can negotiate, attempt to come to an agreement. All industrial action’s outlawed during that time, whether by Qantas or by the unions. And if they can’t reach an agreement then one will essentially be imposed on them by Fair Work Australia.
JOHN LAWS: Okay. Are you a gambling man?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m not, John. I do normally have one punt a year, but I must say I have not had any attempt to even look at who has been running. I was expecting to have a much quieter Saturday afternoon and Sunday.
JOHN LAWS: All right. I’ll give you a horse in our sweep because we’re giving all the people we talk to this morning a horse in our sweep which, as you can imagine, is a fantastic sweep.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Oh, fantastic. Well, I look forward to being notified of that in the…
JOHN LAWS: Yeah. Well I’ll tell you now. You’ve got number five, Glass Harmonium.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Glass Harmonium. Well I’m all for harmony, so maybe that’s a bit of an omen going forward in the negotiations. Thanks very much, John.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.