QANTAS: Dispute on who pilots the A380s
Qantas having a dispute with pilots is nothing new. CEO Alan Joyce shut down the whole airline in 2011 because of a dispute with pilots among other staff. This current dispute as outlined in the SMH is more nuanced and is mired in the creaking seniority system that applies to the airline pilot profession.
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Qantas is taking the Australian International Pilots Association to the Federal Court to solve a nine-month-long dispute over a workplace agreement that prioritises the most senior pilots at Qantas for promotion to the flight decks of its long-haul fleet, particularly its largest plane, the A380.
The core of the dispute
Instead of letting this seniority system play out, and recruiting pilots towards the bottom rungs, allowing the senior pilots to progress to the big birds, Qantas wants to bring in 20 pilots from elsewhere to take up desirable second-pilot training positions on its A380s. Normally, these candidates would be drawn from the internal Qantas ranks of Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A330 pilots.
Qantas argues that it needs to do this because promoting internally would cause a pilot supply shortage lower down the pilot ladder that Qantas could not fill internally. Or at least at the rate required to meet the rocketing demand for international travel. It would also create a call on Qantas pilot training facilities that are already near full capacity.
Pilots don’t see it like that. They see it as Qantas ignoring tradition, existing agreements, and the ambitions of more junior pilots to progress their careers. Since seniority is very much tied to the airline you work for, this argument does have some weight.
Boils down to
Essentially it’s an argument about Qantas paying for the training of 20 pilots – closer to the beginning of their careers, versus updating the training of externally recruited pilots, already trained. Externally recruited pilots would just need some updates to fly the super-jumbos, not the amount of training that pilot recruits coming in lower down the scale would require. So, once again it comes down to money, and Qantas wanting to save some.
The pilots association says, OK, if you really want to recruit from outside, then another clause comes into play which requires Qantas to compensate the pilots that will miss out on driving the big birds. No it doesn’t’ says Qantas, and hence the court action.
Not the only court action
Qantas is also facing next Tuesday the final judicial forum to argue its case about the retrenchment of 1,700 baggage handlers and other ground staff back in 2021. The unions won a decision in the Federal Court that Qantas breached the Fair Work Act by sacking its workers partially to avoid industrial action, and therefore illegally outsourced the positions during the pandemic.
Qantas is taking this to the High Court, arguing that the decision was economic, to ‘save more than $100 million a year when it was struggling to remain solvent.
Qantas has a decades-long reputation for playing very hard when it comes to industrial relations disputes. This bares that out, again.
Having most of the cards and holding them close to its chest has been standard operating procedure for Qantas. In these times of near-full employment and an extreme shortage of trained flight crew and pilots, Qantas may no longer hold a winning hand.
The courts will tell us soon enough.
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