Mr HUSIC (Chifley—Government Whip) (11:12): I want to follow on from the comments by the member for Wakefield because the events of the weekend were simply extraordinary. We had one of Australia’s biggest companies use the flying public mums and dads as pawns in a game of industrial relations hardball. They had, as the member for Wakefield rightly pointed out, a number of avenues under the Fair Work Act by which they could have dealt with this situation. They were outlined a few moments ago and I will pick up the member for Wakefield’s term of ‘sabre rattling’. Even flagging that a move could be undertaken, for example, to suspend or terminate a bargaining period would be interpreted as a serious gesture that would have brought the negotiations into sharp relief, changed the nature of those negotiations and potentially averted the situation that we had on the weekend.
I imagine that if Qantas went to suspend or terminate the bargaining period they would have been required to outline in clear factual terms in front of Fair Work Australia why that course of action was necessary. My suspicion is that they know they would have been unable to justify or obtain orders for that bargaining period that allowed for industrial action to take place to be suspended. Why? It is because, as has already been pointed out and from what I am led to believe, not one minute of flying time was affected as a result of industrial action. The action that pilots had undertaken was in effect to create public awareness either through the heinous crime of wearing a red tie that had a union logo on it or, for example, by announcements in the plane indicating what was going on. That is what the pilots did. What did Qantas do? Qantas undertook action that affected 68,000 people, the flying public, across the globe. Their plans were disrupted because of what Qantas did. Taking protected action not only has to comply with the law, the Fair Work Act, but also has to be mindful of the wishes of employees of affected organisations: they have to vote in favour of action. You cannot simply go out and take industrial action. Union members and employees have to support that action.
To give you an example of how extreme Qantas has become, under the act, obviously the employer has to be given notice of action, but before anything takes place the employees themselves have to take some sort of action within 30 days—and this is a provision that has existed for some time—to ensure that that protected industrial action can occur at some point. But, for unions and employees, the preference will be to negotiate. A Qantas pilot notified Qantas through their union, the AIPA, that they would take token industrial action of two minutes to ensure that they complied with the law. The pilot undertook, with that fair warning, protected industrial action in a two-minute stop-work meeting. Qantas’s reaction was to cancel the flight that that pilot was going to do, stranding the pilot and his family in China. They were stranded as a result of an advised two-minute stoppage by that pilot to ensure there was compliance with the law. This is the type of behaviour that senior management in Qantas are sanctioning.
It is disingenuous for Qantas to say, for example, as they did on the weekend, that they had to undertake this action and it was not premeditated, when it is clear that it was. Thousands of hotel rooms had been booked around the world from Thursday to ensure that this action could be undertaken. The couriers who delivered lockout notices to pilots were booked last week. On Saturday night, Qantas senior executive Lyell Strambi admitted in front of Fair Work Australia that operations preparation had begun on this 10 days prior, while Jetstar CEO Bruce Buchanan sent an email regarding the action to all Jetstar staff on Saturday evening that was mistakenly dated Wednesday. This is the type of action that Qantas have undertaken. I would be interested to know if Qantas have abused their air operator’s certificate by compromising the safety of the flying public by using this industrial tactic.
As I said earlier, to take industrial action under the act, you are required to give an employer 72 hours notice. Employers themselves pressed for this to give themselves certainty and to be able to make contingency plans in case their operations are affected. But employer initiated action like this does not require any notice. Imagine if the tables were turned and unions had taken this action on the spot. We would have all sorts of claims, as the member for Wakefield rightly pointed out, from those opposite that wildcat action had been undertaken. It is simply incredible that this type of situation could occur. The weekend’s events set a terrible precedent, where employers sidestep justifying their moves—bear in mind that, as I indicated earlier, they could have moved to suspend or terminate the bargaining period and would have had to put argument and evidence forward to justify that—and instead move straight to lockout. Imagine if this occurred in another sector of the economy, like the banking system. Imagine if the banking sector took similar action, shutting down branches across the country as part of the lockout. It would be unexplainable and certainly unacceptable for them to do so, and they would have to be stopped in their tracks.
The Fair Work Act, which is the legislation we are referring to here, will come under review next year. Certainly, from my perspective, one area that does require review is the ability of employers to undertake this sort of wildcat action, affecting the public in the way that Qantas have, and the requirement that they too observe a minimum mandatory notice period—that is, where the employer gives notice, within the time frame of 72 hours, that they will effect a lockout. It is unacceptable that 68,000 people—mums and dads—have their lives turned upside down because the CEO and the Chairman of Qantas—the latter-day Don McGauchie, the latter-day Corrigan—want to effect a workplace relations agenda regardless of the impact on the public. Simply put, there needs to be even-handedness on both sides to ensure that the public is not affected.
I know those opposite have been calling for intervention and I love to hear that because I am certain that they have got this nostalgic, warm, fuzzy feeling in their balaclavas that they are getting a chance yet again to intervene in industrial disputes. Their intervention comes with alsatians. If it does not come with alsatians then it comes in the form of WorkChoices. Whenever they talk about intervention, the public should know they have not learned a thing. When they move to involve themselves in any industrial dispute around the country they ensure that the government will pick sides—that is what they are calling for in intervention. It is extraordinary. They say WorkChoices is dead, buried and cremated but certainly somewhere within that body the heart is well and truly beating for WorkChoices and we will see it yet again over the course of this debate and beyond. They do not have a policy but they have an intention and that intention is to bring back the son of WorkChoices in some way, shape or form.
If we are to have a system where we have economic growth at the level it has been that is the envy of the advanced world, with 700,000 jobs created in a period—
Mr Haase: Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek to intervene.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. Peter Slipper ) : Under the standing orders, I am required to ask the member for Chifley whether he will accept an intervention.
Mr HUSIC: I would love to hear this.
Mr Haase: I ask the member would he comment on the efficacy of Australia’s wharves today after the unnecessary action he speaks of.
Mr HUSIC: Thanks, and no. We should ensure that with our economic growth wealth is fairly distributed through industrial agreements that are fairly negotiated. (Time expired)