Qantas on collision course with aircraft engineers


(TVLW) – Qantas is set to further inflame the tempers of its maintenance staff by unveiling “contingency” plans to offset threatened industrial action by its 1700 aircraft engineers.

The airline is expected to detail its plans as early as today. These could include the rescheduling of flights and the hiring of non-union licensed aircraft maintenance engineers (LAMEs) to counter industrial action due to begin on January 9.

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Qantas has declined to comment on speculation it was using the Irish labour hire company Direct Personnel to offer six-month $100,000 contracts to engineering staff made redundant in Sydney last year to act as strikebreakers.

This is more than double the salary of Qantas engineers.

Positions have also been advertised on the job website for LAMEs.

“Successful applicants will be rewarded with an attractive salary package to ensure we attract the best,” the job ad says. There are reports a labour hire company is even visiting the homes of former engineers to entice them back to Qantas.

The Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association (ALAEA) has warned it will begin industrial action on January 9, unless Qantas agrees to its claim of a 5%-a-year pay rise.

The action, which could include four-hour work stoppages, will mean no one will be available to check Qantas flights for take-off or oversee maintenance checks on aircraft at critical times. Qantas has conceded it could be forced to reschedule most of its flights.

The attractive pay offer to former staff is likely to enrage the airline’s engineering staff, 87% of whom voted last week in favour of industrial action.

As for the $100,000 packages being offered to former staff, the union’s federal president, Paul Cousins, said his members “are going to be absolutely furious”.

The airline fuelled anger among staff last week when it announced plans to establish its first heavy maintenance base in Asia in partnership with Malaysia Airlines.

Qantas has argued the new base will only serve as an “overflow” facility when its maintenance facilities in Australia are booked out.

Mr Cousins questioned why an airline holding out on paying its staff an extra 5% or $4000 a year, was prepared to pay $100,000 to non-union engineers for six months. Qantas has a 3% annual pay rise on the table.

“We’ve got no doubt that Qantas has supplied the list (of former staff) to this Direct Personnel firm so they can call the guys who left,” Mr Cousins said.

Qantas laid off 480 maintenance and engineering staff when it closed its Sydney Boeing 747 heavy maintenance base in May last year. It is also suspected Qantas has asked Air New Zealand to provide it with lists of the engineering staff it has made redundant in the past year. This is despite Air NZ stating none of its “senior” executives had been approached by Qantas.