LONDON – The Australian national flag carrier Qantas has hit out a recent statement by New South Wales state senator Tony Sheldon, who has been particularly critical of the airline’s wage and people culture in recent times.
Following a recent near unanimous decision by domestic flight crew attendants to initiate strike action over wages and conditions, Senator Sheldon made several observations in parliament:
In the face of criticisms levelled at the airline by Senator Sheldon, Qantas have issued a response, refuting several of the Senator’s claims.
Qantas’ rebuttal of what it characterises as “multiple erroneous claims” is laid out below. The facts presented are as set out by Qantas:
Qantas rebuttal of Senator Sheldon’s claims
SHELDON CLAIM: Qantas is unreliable and has some of the worst on-time performance and lost baggage.
FACT: Government data shows that Qantas’ domestic on-time performance, cancellations, and mishandled baggage rates back at or close to pre-COVID levels. We were the most punctual airline in October, well ahead of our main rival who we have outperformed in eight of the past 12 months.
SHELDON CLAIM: Qantas is trying to cut the wages and conditions of short haul cabin crew by “20 to 40 per cent”.
FACT: This is simply not correct. Our proposal would mean short haul cabin crew wages would increase (not decrease) and their maximum hours of work each roster would not change.
The proposal includes three per cent annual pay rises, including back pay, overtime of up to 300 per cent on longer shifts, as well as the opportunity to secure cash bonuses of up to $7000. Separate to the proposed agreements, cabin crew are also eligible for 1000 Qantas shares, currently worth more than $6000.
SHELDON CLAIM: Qantas is trying to strip 1300 ‘white collar’ workers of entitlements and “throw them on the unpaid overtime scrapheap”.
FACT: We are proposing to move a group of our employees into our management framework, which is a better fit for the work they do, and consistent with what many of them have requested.
They will be paid more, not less. They will also retain key entitlements and, importantly, would have the opportunity to receive annual bonuses for the first time. The very small minority of these workers who do shift work will retain overtime payments. This change would only occur if the majority of affected employees vote for it.
SHELDON CLAIM: Qantas is unilaterally trying to put “pilots, engineers, flight attendants, and of course, their white collar workforce, …. back to the Award.”
FACT: This is false. On only one occasion in our entire history have we applied to terminate an agreement, and that was because we simply couldn’t properly restart our international business under the old rostering conditions that some of our cabin crew were on. And we only made that application after the Fair Work Commission had accepted that we needed greater flexibility to respond to the uncertainty of international travel.
Ultimately, we reached a new agreement with crew that included pay increases, higher allowances, and moved all crew on to the same rostering system.
SHELDON CLAIM: “These big corporate gorillas like Alan Joyce are hoarding all the bananas and not sharing them out”.
FACT: We’re offering 3 per cent annual pay rises and the opportunity for more than $11,000 bonuses and incentives sharing the benefits of our recovery. These pay rises and benefits for our employees are worth more than $400 million.
We’re also investing $400 million in customer initiatives – new lounges, more frequent flyer seats – and $200 million to ensure we maintain our improved operational performance.
SHELDON CLAIM: Qantas has an older fleet and is not investing.
FACT: We made the largest aircraft order in Australian history earlier this year. We have new aircraft arriving almost every month, including Airbus A321LR for Jetstar, three new Boeing Dreamliners in the first half of next year for Qantas International, followed by the first of our new Airbus A220s for Qantas Domestic.
We’re also continually investing in our existing fleet, including cabin upgrades for our A380s as they return to service, WiFi on our 737s and domestic A330s, and expanding our streaming inflight entertainment system across our fleet of regional jet aircraft.
SHELDON CLAIM: Qantas is “waging war on middle class Australia”.
FACT: Qantas has the highest terms and conditions of any airline in Australia and are one of the highest paying companies in the country. Our average non-executive salary is more than $100,000.
We’ve hired thousands more people this year as we recover from the impact of the pandemic.
SHELDON CLAIM: Qantas is “putting the safety of the airline at risk” by removing people from baggage handling and other ‘critical safety areas’.
FACT: This is simply not true. The rate of operational safety incidents across the Qantas Group is lower than pre-COVID.
In FY19 there was 7.4 incidents in every 1000 flights that required mandatory reporting, while in FY22 this was 7.1.
The rate of workplace injuries across the Qantas Group has also dropped from pre-COVID levels. In FY19 the rate of employee’s reporting an injury or illness related to their work was 19.5 per million hours worked, while in FY22 this was 12.9.
Aviation is one of the most closely scrutinised industries in Australia and Qantas would never, ever compromise on safety.
SHELDON CLAIM: Qantas is “price gouging”.
FACT: Fares are higher due to high travel demand, capacity constraints, and very high fuel costs. These factors are clear in aviation markets around the world. Our Group fuel bill will be approximately $5 billion this year – $1 billion more than pre-COVID, even though we’re doing 30 per cent less international flying.
Qantas launched a 1 million seat sale in October, while Jetstar launched a Black Friday sale with fares from $39. Further sale activity is planned in the weeks ahead.
For Qantas Frequent Flyers, more than five million reward seats are available over the next year and more Points Planes will be released soon.
The embattled Australian national flag carrier has been on the back foot for some time this year; facing criticism levelled at it by customers and staff alike.
The next hurdle it faces is likely to be strike actions by domestic cabin crew members, and there is some concern that travel plans might be disrupted over the looming Christmas holiday season, despite union claims that any action will be made in a way to cause ‘minimal disruption’.
One is given to wonder just how much reputational damage has been caused to Qantas over the course of what has been something of a horror year.