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Quantas axes 97 flights

13 October 2011, 13:01

Sydney - Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce on Thursday said the airline would cut nearly 100 flights a week for at least a month and ground five aircraft as he lashed out at unions over their strike action.

The unions ramped up the pressure with more than 50 services delayed or cancelled on Thursday in a drawn-out industrial dispute over pay and conditions.

Baggage handlers and ground crew stopped work in a standoff that also involves engineers and pilots and has affected more than 50 000 passengers since it began several months ago.

Joyce said that go-slows and overtime bans by maintenance engineers meant it had become difficult to clear a backlog of work, and planes would have to be taken out of service.

"That means grounding four narrow-body Boeing 737s (out of a fleet of 54) and one wide-body Boeing 767 (out of 25) that we use for domestic flying. We will do this for at least one month," he said.

A total of 97 flights each week, mostly affecting Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, will be axed.

Three different unions are locked in protracted contract talks with Qantas - which reported an annual net profit of Aus$250 million in August - over pay and the airline's Asia-focussed restructure.

Joyce denied that any Australian jobs would be lost as a result of the move towards booming Asia, a key claim made by the unions.

"The unions' mantra is 'no offshoring' and 'guarantees' of job security," he said.

"Qantas is an international business, expanding into Asia. Not one Australian job will go as a result of these plans. In fact, success in Asian markets will help protect jobs in Australia."

But he added that in the modern world no company could guarantee jobs for life and lashed out at the unions for "wanting to run the company".

"To give in to these union demands would guarantee a weaker Qantas, with a real risk to our long-term future and all our jobs," said the Irishman, who has allegedly received death threats in recent weeks.

Another contentious issue has been the award to Joyce of a 71% pay rise to Aus$5 million, which unions described as "hypocrisy".

Joyce claimed on Thursday that Transport and General Workers' Union-represented staff, such as baggage handlers, at the carrier were already the best paid in the country, earning 12% more than their counterparts at rival Virgin Australia.

"Our pilots and licensed engineers are (also) among the best compensated in the world with outstanding pay and conditions - with our long-haul pilots, for example, earning 50% more than their peers at Virgin," he added.

TWU members stopped work for two hours early on Thursday morning at airports across the nation and were due to walk out for another two hours in the afternoon, while border security staff also held strike action.

Qantas said the dispute had forced it to cancel 14 domestic flights and it would delay 38 others.

Engineers are due to strike again on Friday.


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