The Guardian October 10, 2001


Ansett's clouded future

While the future of Ansett airlines is still in doubt, a new battle is 
brewing over the wages and conditions of workers in the airline industry in 
Australia.

Some Ansett workers have been lucky enough to return to work. Ansett Mark 
II (as it is known) and offshoots Hazelton, Kendal and Traveland are doing 
their best to exploit the desperation of Ansett workers by attacking wages 
and conditions.

Qantas has joined the fray with plans to wipe out long-standing conditions. 
They are making the most of a global industry in deep crisis. Around 
113,000 aviation jobs were lost worldwide within 10 days of the terrorist 
attack on September 11.

The attack only worsened a situation in which many would have been laid off 
anyway, in an industry expected to have losses in excess of US$10 billion.

US United Airlines alone sacked 11,000 workers, British airlines have 
announced the loss of 7000 jobs, Virgin Atlantic another 1200, and so the 
list goes. The toll in both jobs and airline companies is mounting daily.

In Australia we have seen Impulse swallowed up by Qantas and the crash of 
Ansett with the loss of thousands of jobs in the industry and in support 
services.

The tourist industry in Australia has suffered seriously, not just because 
of the international situation and fear of terrorist attacks and now war.

Higher petrol prices, Australia's attitude to refugees, the cancellation of 
CHOGM, the fact that many people are feeling very insecure and short of 
cash, and because a number of resorts are no longer serviced by an airline 
since Ansett's crash are all having a negative effect.

Competition is fierce in an over-serviced and shrinking market as global 
depression sets in. Many of those desperate workers who have gone back to 
work at Ansett and its off-shoots have done so on greatly reduced wages and 
conditions or for no wages at all. At the same time, Federal politicians 
are playing games with their entitlements and job prospects.

Qantas, which has been making the most of Ansett's demise, now wants to 
reduce the wages and conditions of it unionised workforce. It is talking 
about a new agreement with massive concessions from its workforce.

It is doing so on the background of tens of thousands of unemployed 
aviation workers in Australia and overseas.

Qantas attempted to bring in foreign planes and crews to take up some of 
the extra business created by Ansett's demise. The government blocked this 
move so Qantas has now got around this problem by hiring foreign airlines 
and crew for its overseas flights, freeing up planes for domestic routes.

Qantas is also talking of setting up a discount airline which it says would 
compete with Virgin Blue, whose costs at present are around 30-35 per cent 
less than those of Qantas. Qantas denies that it is using the new airline, 
to be called Australian Airlines, to undermine the wages and conditions of 
its staff.

It appears Qantas is attempting to repeat what Telstra did when it wanted 
to get rid of the union, introduce individual contracts and reduce wages 
and conditions.

Telstra, in conjunction with an American company, set up Stella call 
centres and gradually shifted Telstra business to these centres.

Bit by bit Telstra's work is being shifted to the non-unionised workforce 
on individual contracts and on the most appalling wages and conditions. 
Qantas appears to be planning a similar exercise.

Meanwhile negotiations continue and it appears that Singapore Airlines', 
Solomon Lew, and transport magnate Lindsay Fox are interested in picking 
over Ansett Airlines.

The New Zealand Government, unlike its counterpart in Australia, has in 
effect re-nationalised Air New Zealand and put in NZ$885 million to bail it 
out.

The US Government has offered US$17 billion to US airlines to assist with 
their problems. Bush has not moved for the public sector to take over any 
airline there however.

The Australian Government is still doing very little and has not guaranteed 
that Ansett employees will receive their full entitlements.

For passengers with Ansett tickets, the only good news is that they may 
receive a refund if they paid for the ticket with a credit card. There is 
also a possibility that those who paid for tickets on future flights may 
still be able to use them.

On the other hand, those who hold tickets that were not honoured and which 
were paid for by cash or cheque look, at this stage, like joining the long 
queue of unsecured creditors with the hope that some dollars will be left 
for them.

Back to index page