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CHOGM 2011: Grounding of Qantas planes hits summit

 

Julia Gillard holds an impromptu press conference on the Qantas strike at CHOGM 2011
Julia Gillard holds an impromptu press conference on the Qantas strike at CHOGM 2011 – Photo by Victoria Holdsworth

World leaders are in Perth on the west coast of Australia this week to take part in the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

Amanda McClintock, 19, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Queensland, reports on the news breaking during the conference that Australia’s biggest airline, Qantas, has grounded all of its worldwide flights over an industrial dispute.

Australian airports have ground to a halt as the country’s national carrier suspended all domestic and international flights due to industrial action between the company and its employees.

Fully boarded flights were asked to disembark and collect their luggage from the carousels as the QANTAS CEO announced that the entire fleet was grounded indefinitely, causing confusion and panic across the nation. It was announced at 5pm AEDT that QANTAS would lock out all staff involved in industrial action as of 8pm Monday October 31st 2011 and as a precaution all flights would be halted right away.

The price and availability of flights on other airlines skyrocketed as customers tried to find another way home before they were stranded. As politicians dodged questions relating to the action that has and will be taken, the public wants to know what to do next and how this will affect them.

Unions and their members have been pushing for higher pay rates and better working conditions for several months now but it seems that there has been very little progress towards a resolution.

QANTAS CEO Alan Joyce says that this action, while unfortunate, was necessary and that it was all that could be done. “We are locking out until the unions withdraw their extreme claim and reach an agreement with us,” Mr Joyce said. “It’s an unbelievable decision, it’s a very hard decision … we have no alternative. This is the fastest way to ensure the airline gets back in the air.”

Union officials are furious about the action that has been taken saying that: “This is a pre-conceived, pre-planned attempt to hoodwink the shareholders, hoodwink the Australian community. Now it’s trying to hoodwink the company’s workforce.” Claiming that QANTAS has been refusing to negotiate with unions, they believe that the company is planning on moving the work overseas to Asia, resulting in a huge loss of jobs to Australia.

Transport Minister Anthony Albanese shares the opinion of the unions and has been outraged by the action that QANTAS has undertaken. “QANTAS had not indicated that they wanted the Government to intervene, nor had the unions… either publicly or privately, so it is extraordinary that QANTAS has taken this action… I think it is certainly a breach of faith with the Government, the fact that there was no advanced notice of this action being taken by QANTAS,” he said during a press conference earlier today claiming that the government had no knowledge of the action until two o’clock this afternoon.

An emergency meeting with Fair Work Australia has been called and is taking place at the moment in an attempt to get planes back in the sky as soon as possible. If this is successful, QANTAS and unions will have 21 days during which no industrial action may take place and there will be a chance to sit down and attempt to negotiate around this issue once and for all.

QANTAS has assured passengers that they will refund tickets to any customers who wish to cancel their airfares and that they will reimburse daily expenses of up to $350 per day per person for passengers stranded away from home.

Whilst this action has and will affect 80,000 passengers across the world the opinions of the public are mixed. Many people are angry with QANTAS and Mr Joyce and the action that has been taken claiming that the issue should have been resolved months ago. Despite this, many people are also remaining loyal to the company placing the blame upon the unions for pushing for action that is not necessary given the circumstances.

 

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