Should unions be banned from exposing undetermined industrial action to the media?

Qantas has made a submission to the Productivity Commission which could prevent unions from disrupting business operations by speaking out about industrial action before employers are officially notified.

Should unions be banned from exposing undetermined industrial action to the media?
Qantas has proposed changes to the Fair Work Act in order to prevent unions from jeopardising ticket sales by threatening industrial action through the media.

The alterations would prevent unions from making media statements about potential industrial action which the airline bosses were awaiting official notification about.

The Canberra Times reported that Qantas made a submission to the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into the workplace relations framework, in which the company said it would like rules to be implemented to prevent unions from making damaging statements in the media.

In some cases, empty threats have been made by the Transport Workers Union (TWU); Qantas claims there is little relief available as it was not possible for the organisation to take defamation action in retaliation to the union’s damaging statements.

A Qantas spokesman said that in the past, unions had publicised their plans for industrial action but backed out at the last minute.

“Nevertheless, flights were rescheduled, passengers reaccommodated and additional cost put on the business for action that on occasion never eventuated,” he said. “What we are saying in our submission is that this practice creates disruption and cost for passengers and the company, most of which cannot be recouped.”

The airline also said in its submission that it did not want to be forced to negotiate with unions over productivity in its enterprise agreements, The Times reported. Such negotiations, the airline claimed, raise employee and union expectations that productivity gains should be distributed as higher wages.

This reflects the Australian Industry Group’s call for improving productivity to be made mandatory in all workplace agreements.

Qantas said that much of its increased productivity stems from technological advancements such as new aircraft, methods of check-in and improved technology for air traffic control; all of which enhanced the company’s productivity while reducing labour unit costs.

It claimed that productivity bargaining would encourage unions to resist change until it was paid for.

“In the context of an annual adjustment of award rates through the national wage bench, unions could perceive productivity bargaining as relating to increases over and above the standard wage increase,” the Qantas spokesman said. “How productivity is distributed must be the preserve of the business as it meets competitive challenges.”

During the first half of the current financial year, Qantas has agreed 18-month wage freezes in 11 of its 50 enterprise bargaining agreements.

It is pursuing the same clauses for its remaining agreements as their negotiation approaches.

Last month, over 2500 TWU members employed by Qantas agreed to a wage freeze in exchange for the airline consenting to create a corporate body for its international business, improved consultation and training opportunities and access to long service leave. Union members also agreed to continue to commit to working under the existing terms as a part of the deal.

Qantas has also requested that the Productivity Commission amends “permitted matters” for negotiation to prevent unions from seeking terms which could restrict the employer’s ability to enter into arrangements with third parties.

"This will, among other things, remove the current ambiguity regarding job security clauses, which restrict an employer's use of contract labour," Qantas said.
Related articles:
Unions continue “scare campaign” over Productivity Commission’s inquiry
How will Productivity Commission’s inquiry affect employers?
Official review of Australian ‘workplace relations framework’ due in 2015

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