October 30, 2011

What's up, Skip?



Crikey. Who'd want to be booked on a Qantas flight right now? Thousands of people all over the globe have been caught short, unwittingly becoming casualties of a long-running industrial dispute between management of Australia's national carrier, Qantas and several of the workers unions here. Through no fault of their own, passengers have found themselves stranded at airports for an as-yet undetermined period of time after the entire Qantas fleet of planes worldwide was grounded without warning yesterday. Virgin, Jetstar and Tiger Airways must be smiling all the way to the bank.

This grounding is unprecedented in terms of industrial disputes. CEO Alan Joyce is definitely playing hardball with this escalation. The immediate cost to Qantas is $20 million per day, every day the planes stay grounded. Long term though, the damage to their name and reputation as well as compensation to passengers could make this figure seem minuscule. Already there are hundreds of disgruntled people swearing they will never fly Qantas again. Ever. Not good news for the flying kangaroo. Hardly the 'Spirit of Australia' now is it?

So what's it all about? On one hand, we have Qantas who say restructure was necessary to make their business financially viable by out-sourcing some operations overseas and ultimately protecting the commercial longevity of the company. On the other hand, we have a group of unions saying that they are only protecting the basic rights of their workers and stopping Australian jobs going overseas. And in the middle, we have the flying public who are trying to get on with their everyday lives but becoming understandably upset because THEY seem to be the only ones paying the price.

It's a tough one.

Air travel has changed a lot since I was a kid. It's a much less expensive option compared to what it used to be. I was 21 the first time I ever flew on a plane whereas my boys have flown many times already (they don't know how lucky they are!). The internet and globalization of competition has forced airlines to streamline their operations to compete for a share of the available market. It's like anything else. I mean, who hasn't shopped around for cheap flights? I know I certainly have. But you know what? I hardly ever flew Qantas because their fares were usually one of the dearest. Food for thought, right there.

I don't have a lot of personal experience with unions as I have always worked in private enterprise. And to be honest, I'm not sure that I'd want a body of people speaking for me anyway. I like being able to do what's right for ME, not what's right for most. Unions by their very nature seem to stir things up, not keep things running smoothly, at least that's my perception of them. In private enterprise, you don't get to say: "I'm going on strike until you give me what I want." You either have a conversation with your boss and come to an agreement, or you tough it out until you find something else. When you have bills to pay, there simply isn't any other option. And to think we used to treat this experience as character building!

I do wonder how this will affect Australia, in general, though. If it isn't sorted out in the very near future, the ramifications for the tourism industry alone, one that has already experienced massive hits this year, could be immense. Queensland Tourism especially, must be worried about how this will affect their livelihoods.

As you might imagine, talks to end this dispute are going on right now. Let's hope someone has the sense to come to an agreement, sooner rather than later.

The flying kangaroo might end up going walkabout if they don't.

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