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Qantas divide strikes a global note

By K.C. Boey - posted Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Love him or hate him, Alan Joyce has had people the world over sit up and take notice. Who would have thought the chief executive of a middling public-listed company in Australia would have caused such a stir.

Among inconvenienced business travellers and holidaymakers booked with Qantas stranded mid-flight from Los Angeles to London, Singapore and Australia, few would have had a good word for the man who unilaterally grounded the entire global fleet of Australia’s national carrier in reaction to union demands.

At The Malaysian Insider news portal, few events outside of Malaysian preoccupation with domestic affairs drew as much comment as Joyce standing up to union muscle.


Wrote one reader: “One of the problems causing the financial crisis in the West is the presence of a strong union movement. At a time when millions are dying to have jobs, Qantas employees, reputedly some of the best paid in the industry, have decided to strike.”

This isn’t quite correct. Various unions representing sections of employees, including pilots, had embarked on varying degrees of industrial action. It was Joyce, in fact, who unilaterally took “strike action”, locking out Qantas’s entire staff rather than endure “death by a thousand cuts”.

The Insider commentator went on: “The management made the right decision to cease all operation…Public anger should be directed at union members, not the management.”

Commented another Insider reader: “The management has a huge task managing an airline with what little resources they have, and here you have a bunch of spoilt Qantas employees demanding better pay and benefits.

“Qantas employees, if you are reading this, kindly research how much other airline companies in other countries are paying their staff. You can start with Malaysia Airlines and (Malaysia-based) AirAsia: look at how much their cabin crews are being paid, and also what are their benefits (or the lack of benefits). Only then would you truly be thankful for what you have. 
“They — both MAS and AirAsia — had made their staff take a pay cut and you don’t see the staff picketing and going on strike now, do you?”

There were decided thumbs down for the reader in support of “victory to the…workers’ union. May they win against the CAPITALISTS”.


Unwittingly AirAsia chief Tony Fernandes had forced Joyce’s hand. It has to be said, though, that neither Joyce nor Fernandes must in all good conscience have had in mind the bearing the business models of their respective airlines would have in sharpening clarity in understanding the transforming global workforce.

This at a time when the global population just ticked over into seven billion: when half of that seething humanity — from the emerging nations — are aspiring to the comforts of the advanced other; and for two months now we have had the anger of the “99 per cent have-nots” spilling on to global streets and parks inspired by the “Occupy Wall Street” protests against the “1 per cent haves”.

Not that Joyce and Fernandes would concern themselves with such global stats and events much beyond what they represent as market prospects, and what proportion of the market each can corner for their airlines. Their motive is to maximise profit; their sole responsibility to their respective boards and shareholders.

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About the Author

K.C. Boey is a former editor of Malaysian Business and The Malay Mail. He now writes for The Malaysian Insider out of Melbourne.

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