Qantas ups the ante in long-haul cabin crew contract battle

© Reuters.FILE PHOTO: A man is seen from the international terminal of Sydney Airport as countries respond to the new coronavirus Omicron variant amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Sydney, Australia, on November 2 ground crew walking near a Qantas plane

Jamie Fried

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Qantas Airways Ltd said on Thursday it would seek to end the terms of its contracts with long-haul flight attendants after union members voted against more flexible scheduling, a move that would result in deep pay cuts.

Qantas said it was the first time in its history that it had sought to end a terms of employment agreement, or contract between an employer and a union, in a rare and drastic move in industrial relations in Australia.

If successful, crew wages and conditions will be restored to much lower Australian minimum industry standards while a new deal is negotiated.

The move prepares the airline for a high-profile union battle at a time when it also needs to strike a deal with short-haul crews to hammer out a business case for a major order for Airbus SE (OTC: ) narrow-body planes.

Qantas’ latest contract offer for long-haul flight attendants was rejected by 97 per cent in a December poll.

The airline said the union counter-offer was “not feasible” as it would add up to A$60 million ($43.3 million) in costs over four years.

Andrew David, chief executive of Qantas International, said in a statement: “We are seeking a termination because without the shift changes we desperately need, we will not be able to run our business effectively to properly restart in a post-COVID world. our international network.”

Under current agreements, crew members working on the A330 fleet cannot be used on the 787 and A380 fleets, making it harder for Qantas to switch models.

The airline ran only 20% of its pre-COVID-19 international capacity during the quarter, with the arrival of the Omicron variant leading to tighter border restrictions in some countries.

Qantas said it expected Fair Work Australia to process the application in the coming weeks, and the airline asked for an expedited hearing. It said it was willing to put the same deal rejected by the union back on the table.

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