Qantas ground staff forced cancellations or delays to 55 flights across Australia due to strike
SYDNEY - Thousands of passengers faced disruptions on Tuesday as strike action by Qantas ground staff forced cancellations or delays to 55 flights across Australia.
The nationwide walkout by about 4,000 baggage handlers, caterers and freight workers in a dispute over pay and conditions saw staggered four-hour stoppages throughout the morning peak period.
Twenty-eight flights were cancelled and 27 delayed, Qantas said on its website, with some 6,000 passengers affected.
But the chaos was limited by the airline deploying larger aircraft and using management staff in ground roles, with services starting to get back to normal around lunchtime.
The cancellations were all domestic services and included flights from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra and Adelaide.
The strike follows a breakdown in contract talks and the airline's recent announcement of a major Asia-focused restructure that will see 1,000 staff sacked.
Olivia Wirth, Qantas group executive of government and corporate affairs, said progress could only be made if the union returned to the negotiating table and stopped industrial action. "What it does take is for this sort of action to stop," she told reporters. "If they are serious about these discussions and representing their members they need to continue their negotiations."
She added that the airline's focus on Tuesday had been "very much on assuring we can run as many services as possible". "We have been forced to cancel 28 flights and delay others. This has obviously had a significant effect on passengers and we do apologise."
Qantas, which last month reported an annual net profit of Aus$250 million (US$254.7 million) -- double that of the previous year -- is also locked in a bruising industrial dispute with pilots and engineers over pay and conditions.
They are already undertaking low-level industrial action but have threatened to escalate their campaign.
Another contentious issue has been chief executive Alan Joyce being awarded a 71 percent pay increase to Aus$5 million as jobs are being axed, with unions describing it as "hypocrisy".
Transport Workers Union spokesman Mick Pieri said the workers only wanted "a fair go". "We've tried to make it as friendly as possible today," he told reporters. "But we are negotiating for job security. I mean we're asking for a five percent pay rise and one percent on superannuation (pension).
"At the same time Joyce gets a 71 percent payrise -- if Joyce got a 50 percent rise he might have paid for everything we're asking for. How is that fair?
"Lets face it, all these profits, they're making them on the back of all these workers."
The Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association's Steve Purvinis added that Qantas workers were disillusioned with management and the direction they were taking the airline.
"There's three very angry unions and 35,000 angry employees with that company," he told the ABC. "I mean let's have a look at what they're trying to do -- they've declared war on their workforce."
Last month, Joyce announced plans to launch two new airlines -- a premium joint venture for which it is yet to name its partner and base location -- and a budget carrier called Jetstar Japan.
Unions are fuming about jobs potentially being outsourced to Asia.