The country’s airports face the threat of Christmas travel chaos after Qantas’ domestic cabin crew voted overwhelmingly to push ahead with strike action.
The strike threat follows 99 per cent of the airline’s 1200 flight attendants voting in favour of industrial action, unless the airline returns to the bargaining table with a better pay offer.
It came as a Labor senator doubled down on his attack on Qantas boss Alan Joyce, accusing him of “hoarding all the bananas” and calling for him to be sacked.
“Employers like Qantas are leading the charge and leading the big corporations, the big gorillas, to fight back to say that middle incomes shouldn’t be allowed across the economy and to improve,” Tony Sheldon said on Thursday.
“We’ve got an airline that’s got an older fleet, they’re not reinvesting, they’re turning around and doing share buybacks.
“They’re paying themselves executive salary increases substantially, and then also doing over the Australian community.”
No date for the cabin crew’s industrial action has been announced, or any deadline for a return offer from Qantas. On Thursday, the airline described the support for strikes as “very disappointing”.
The Flight Attendants Association of Australia said cabin crew would take a measured approach to any action to minimise disruption to the travelling public. But national secretary Teri O’Toole said staff wanted a fair pay offer that did not send pay and conditions backwards.
“Our members have languished under expired agreements for several years, while having to bear the burden of stand downs and the COVID pandemic,” she said on Thursday.
“Meanwhile the demand for travel has rebounded strongly and Qantas is enjoying multibillion-dollar profits.
“Yet Qantas is asking its loyal employees, who stood by the airline through its worst days, to take pay freezes and sub-inflation pay rises while demanding massive productivity gains.”
The Australian reported on Thursday that cabin crew would have shifts extended from 9.5 hours to 12 hours, and up to 14 hours in the event of disruption, under a new enterprise agreement offered by Qanta.
The airline also wants to reduce rest periods between shifts to 10 hours. Ms O’Toole said that would only increase the issue of fatigue.
She told The Australian that Qantas was also threatening to exclude existing cabin crew from work on new aircraft such as the A321XLR, which will replace Boeing 737s in coming years.
“With this ballot outcome, flight attendants have declared enough is enough,” Ms O’Toole said.
“Qantas can’t keep bullying them into accepting poor pay deals while threatening their jobs, while forecasting multibillion-dollar profits and huge executive bonuses.”
A Qantas spokesman said the ballot outcome was “very disappointing”. The airline had offered 3 per cent pay rises and access to more than $7000 in bonus payments, a spokesman said.
“Cabin crew are also in line to receive 1000 shares worth around $6000,” he said.
Senator Sheldon, a former Transport Workers Union, said while the airline had posted record profits and was targeting its employees, ordinary Australians were suffering from exorbitant airfares
“They’re not only gouging from the Australian community but there also gouging from their own workforce,” he told Sky News on Thursday.
“They [the business community] have got Alan Joyce spearheading that attack [on multi-employer bargaining], it’s just disgusting.”
Senator Sheldon also took aim at a plan by Qantas to move 1300 workers off an existing enterprise bargaining agreement and onto individual contracts. He said that would threaten safety.
“When you get experienced people and you throw them out of the business in critical safety areas, then you’re putting the safety of the airline at risk,” he said.
“They’re saying if you don’t turn around and accept the agreement then we’re going to turn around and put you back on the award.
“Agreed negotiations over many decades that have been openly agreed to are now thrown out of the door and you can receive a 50 to 60 per cent wage cut unless you accept the 20 or 40 per cent wage cut now.”
Thursday’s reports came a day after Qantas boss Mr Joyce declined to comment on reports he will meet Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to lobby against workplace reforms aimed at increasing wages.
On Wednesday, the national carrier announced an expected $150 million increase in its half-yearly profit, which is now expected to be as much as $1.45 billion.
That represents an increase of $800 million to $1 billion on market expectations in October, when Qantas released its last upgraded earnings guidance to the stock exchange.
Qantas chairman Richard Goyder recently denied that a decision to outsource ground services had led to widespread complaints about baggage handling.