Government shortchanges Ansett workers
The ACTU welcomed the return to the skies of some Ansett planes last weekend, saying it was an important first step in rebuilding the airline. The administrators agreed to provide limited services initially between Sydney and Melbourne and later to other capital cities when the government offered to underwrite the services for 12 weeks. The airline is offering large discounts and the government is hoping that this will buy time until after the elections. In another cynical, dishonest exercise the government is now talking about putting itself ahead of employees and other creditors in the queue for Ansett's assets. The government claims that this money would be used to cover the costs of the government's employee entitlements scheme for workers. The government has already passed legislation for a $10 tax on airline tickets to fund the employee entitlements scheme. Apart from the fact that its employee scheme is totally inadequate, Ansett employees would also be at a greater risk of losing their entitlements as the administrators sell assets and clear debts. TNT along with Murdoch's News Limited were the owners of Ansett airlines for many years. TNT sold its share in 1996 to Air New Zealand and News Limited sold its share in June 2000. Six months after the sale the Civil Aviation Safety Authority grounded six of Ansett's planes on safety grounds. Three more were grounded a few weeks later and then ten at Easter. These safety concerns did not arise in a few months or a few years. Ansett's 69 planes were in need of billions of dollars of maintenance and upgrading. Instead of putting adequate funds aside for these important tasks, the former owners of Ansett had milked it over the years and then sold it off to an unwitting Air New Zealand. Regardless of what Air New Zealand has done, much of the blame and responsibility should be sheeted home to Abeles and Murdoch. Howard and his Ministers conveniently ignore this fact, they are certainly not going to attack or seek compensation from media magnate Murdoch on the eve of an election. Meanwhile, apart from those who returned to work at the weekend, or at Traveland or Hazleton (on severely reduced wages and conditions), the overwhelming majority of Ansett workers are still without income and fighting for full payment of their entitlements and for their jobs back. If they resign they loose their rights to redundancy payments, as they have technically been stood down, not sacked. If they don't resign then they are not eligible for unemployment benefits. Added to this is the uncertainty of what entitlements they might receive if they hang out now without an income. The Government has a responsibility to do more than just underwrite a few flights. One of the people looking over the assets of Ansett is the anti-union, transport magnate and mate of Bob Hawke and Bill Kelty, Lindsay Fox. This would give him a footing in the airline industry. The airline needs to be back in the air, not under the management of another capitalist like Fox or Murdoch, but as a publicly owned service. Only then can the jobs of airline workers be secured, and only then can the travelling public have confidence in the service.