Monday, October 31, 2011

The 1% strikes back: QANTAS holds the economy to ransom

Last night, Fair Work Australia (FWA) ruled to terminate all industrial action in the QANTAS dispute. Undoubtedly there will be much written blaming the unions for this industrial chaos, but FWA makes it clear that it was the threatened action by QANTAS that was the deciding factor in terminating the action.

The issue arose because of an application by the Federal Government under s424 of the Fair Work Act (the Act). Section 424(1) states:

    424 FWA must suspend or terminate protected industrial action—endangering life etc. Suspension or termination of protected industrial action
  1. FWA must make an order suspending or terminating protected industrial action for a proposed enterprise agreement that:
    1. is being engaged in; or
    2. is threatened, impending or probable; if FWA is satisfied that the protected industrial action has threatened, is threatening, or would threaten:
    3. to endanger the life, the personal safety or health, or the welfare, of the population or of part of it; or
    4. to cause significant damage to the Australian economy or an important part of it.”
FWA ruled that the criteria had been met under s424, particularly 424(1)(d) with respect to the aviation, tourism and associated industries.

However, it was not the protected action taken by unions that fulfilled the criteria but the threatened industrial action by QANTAS.

At [10], FWA ruled (emphasis mine):
"It is unlikely that the protected industrial action taken by the three unions, even taken together, is threatening to cause significant damage to the tourism and air transport industries. The response industrial action of which Qantas has given notice, if taken, threatens to cause significant damage to the tourism and air transport industries and indirectly to industry generally because of the effect on consumers of air passenger and cargo services."
In its ruling on making the order to terminate, rather than suspend protected industrial action, FWA further referenced the uncertainty cause by the employer strike:

At [15] (emphasis mine):
"...Suspension is necessarily temporary - it leaves open the possibility there may be a further lock out with its attendant risks for the relevant part of the economy. That is, a risk the situation we are now dealing with will recur."
In other words QANTAS' threats to the wider economy were the deciding factor in this order, not the union action.

The right to strike has been curtailed to such an extent that it is almost impossible for employees to withdraw their labour to obtain fair working conditions such as the 8-hour day, sick leave, holiday pay, maternity leave and many other conditions that we now take for granted. The justification for this curtailment of labour to take action has always been that industrial action by labour can have seriously detrimental effects on the economy.

The message from this, is that the 1% - the corporations- has unfettered power and is prepared to use it regardless of the detrimental effects to the economy or the country. The almost unfettered right to strike by capital, has held the Australian economy to ransom. FWA has made it clear that it was QANTAS' actions that were the threat, not the union that threatened the economy. The economy cannot be  held to ransom by the industrial action of capital, just as it cannot be held to ransom by labour.

It is time the the Government governs for the 99%  and curtails the rights of capital to strike as they have curtailed the rights of labour.