Flying kangaroo's strike breakers
Janice Hamilton Airline unions are gearing up for a bumpy Christmas after Qantas Chief Executive Officer Geoff Dixon admitted to shareholders at the company's annual general meeting last week that airline management has been training up to 1000 strikebreakers in the event of any strike action by flight attendants. The Flight Attendants Association threatened the strike action when its enterprise agreement expires in December after Qantas announced that it would be relocating 400 long haul flight attendants to London in order to cut costs. The confrontation is shaping up as a post-election opportunity for the Howard Government to kick off its union-busting agenda. The admission from the Qantas chief came as one of the trainee flight attendants, Erika Gutierrez, spoke publicly about the conditions of her limited term 11-month contract, or at least what she thought it was when she signed up. In an interview on the ABC's 7.30 Report Ms Gutierrez said that on her first day she had realised what she had signed up for, which was basically two weeks of training. "Once the training was completed, I would not actually be employed by Qantas. My contract would not commence until 11 December, so that approximately meant six to eight weeks without any work at all. "They also advised that you weren't to actually be employed by anybody else at that particular point in time, and if in the event that there were strike action, that there may be an opportunity for us actually to fly [and] we would be paid out four week's wages, then on your merry way." In response to Ms Gutierrez's statement Michael Mijatov, from the Flight Attendants Association said, "This current management of Qantas has gone too far. "What it's doing to these people, playing with their lives is, is utterly despicable." Mr Mijatov said that his members were ready to fight for their job security. Other airline unions whose agreements expire at the same time also said their members would join the flight attendants in taking industrial action. The Australian Services Union (ASU), which covers check in, call centre and administrative staff, said its members would walk off the job in response to a company decision to increase the fees paid to non-executive directors by 66 per cent. According to the ASU National Secretary Linda White, the productivity from the airline's workforce had been unprecedented in the airline's history. Yet workers had been offered a three percent increase while executive salaries were soaring. "In 1999 the CEO's salary was about 30 times a professional engineer, so we're talking a person who has engineering qualifications. These days at Qantas, the CEO's salary is about 60 times a professional engineer and that's a staggering growth and differential in a short period of time." Linda White says now that the flying kangaroo is confronting strikes with an alternative workforce, others will follow. "This will be commonplace in this country", she warned. Prime Minister John Howard said that he supported the company taking the action claiming that we live in a global economy and that workers should learn to live with it. In an interview with the 7.30 Report's Kerry O'Brien Howard also indicated that the government would move to stop strike action in all essential services as outlined in the Coalition's "Fightback" policies written in 1992.