Qantas workers' 'bogus' bonus

Nicholas McCallum

'It doesn’t make any sense to us': Qantas staff rebuke bogus bonus. 

A very long stick and a little carrot.

That’s one way to describe the puny offer Qantas has made to its staff after years of wage freezes and layoffs.

When the “Spirit of Australia” reported a record $1.6 billion profit this year, it offered a “reward” to its workforce: a $2000 bonus if they sign on to their new enterprise agreements.

The miserly offer was met with anger and disdain from the thousands of Qantas union members who carried the airline through the turbulence of the past decade, taking it from a struggle to soaring profits.

However, a number of workers will not see their bonus until 2020, when their next EBA is signed. Some workers allege they have been threatened with collective punishment of losing their bonuses if any of them step out of line.

“If one or more employees engage in any such conduct during the period, all employees in the relevant work group will lose eligibility for the bonus,” a directive sent to staff read.

That’s not in “Spirit of Australia” and no way to treat workers who have sacrificed for an iconic brand.

“Something is deeply wrong in our country, deeply wrong,” said ACTU Secretary Sally McManus at a lunchtime rally of 200 staff and union members outside the Qantas head office in Sydney.

Qantas unions line up outside the national carrier's head office in Sydney.

“It used to be part of the spirit of our country that we believed in a fair go and our national icons also believed in a fair go.”

ETU National Industrial Coordinator Matt Murphy said the offer from Qantas management was a “slap in the face” for the hard-working employees.

“These workers sacrificed for this brand when it was on its knees only to be slapped in the face by Joyce and the rest of these well-heeled bosses,” Murphy said.

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“Some of these workers have had their bonus dangled so far out of their reach and now we hear there have been threats of collective punishment if anyone speaks out.

“Qantas is showing total contempt for these workers.”

Members from the ETU, AMWU, TWU and FAAA call for a fairer deal.

Not that long ago, the Red Tail was more than $2 billion deep in the red. Its CEO Alan Joyce decided the best way to turn things around was to take the axe to the workforce, cut and outsource jobs and freeze workers’ pay in an effort to make the airline profitable again.

As usual, the hard work and hardship was all the workers’ burden to bear. But the bosses forgot that when the good times returned to bring the record profits of $1.6 billion.

“Over the last seven years we’ve seen wage freezes, staff cuts, outsourcing as jobs become more insecure… the grounding of an airline, for this profit,” McManus told the gathered crowd.

“Who’s responsible for this $1.6 billion profit? You are,” the ACTU Secretary said to the airline’s flight crews, admin staff and maintenance workers at the lunchtime gathering.

That record profit is not being shared with the workers.

(L to R) Qantas ETU delegate Jorge Martin with organisers Brad Currey and Steve Robinson.

ETU NSW officals (L to R) Tara Koot, Mark Buttigieg, Steve Robinson, Brad Currey and Anthony O'Sullivan.

At a time of “record low wage growth for working people”, McManus said Qantas last year paid out “obscene bonuses” to its senior executives totalling $53 million. The airline’s boss saw his pay double to $24.6 million.

Meanwhile the workers who made the profit have been told they might be waiting a long time before their bonuses to trickle-down to their bank accounts.

ETU delegate Jorge Martin lashed Qantas’ “double standard” in paying its executives millions in bonuses while the workers have been brought to heel for a few grand.

“It makes no sense to us that they’re rewarding people for past performance and then saying ‘You can’t get it now. You’ll get in two years’ time when you sign the next EBA,” he said as the rally wrapped up.

“But it’s ok for Alan Joyce to get his $25 million. It’s ok for his other managers to get paid the bonus now.

“It doesn’t make any sense to us.”

Qantas workers call for a fairer share of the airline's record profits.

Having organised with Qantas union members since 2010, ETU NSW’s Bradley Currey said the whole episode was galvanising workers fed up with their hard work not paying off while their bosses reap in mega-bucks.

“This is the perfect example of how the ‘trickledown’ approach only benefits CEOs, senior management and the elite,” said the organiser who worked at Qantas for 20 years prior to his current role with the union. 

“Those at the top enjoy massive salaries and bonuses while the real workers at the coal face who do the hard yards day in, day out, are held to ransom.

Unions are scathing that workers were offered a bonus to be paid when they next sign an EBA - that's not till 2020 for some.

“This lack of good faith from management has brought all Qantas employees together ready to campaign for a fair go.”

McManus said Qantas’ bonus scheme was unfair, brimming with “mean spiritedness” and went against the notion of the fair go.

“Wealth is not being shared in our country. That is the heart of the fair go, that when companies do well, we share in it,” she said. 

“Our message is really simple: reconsider your decision. Restore the spirit of Australia, restore the fair go. Show your workers respect and they will show you respect.”  

McManus said that lack of respect for the workers was manifest in far too many companies across Australia, where massive profits were not being shared with the workers whose labour made the wealth while the companies and their shareholders grow even richer. 

“In our country last year, 732 profitable companies paid not one single cent of tax, including Qantas,” she said. 

Change the Rules: Workers are sick of seeing little reward for their hard work while bosses pocket big bonuses.

It’s not a fair system when workers are told to wait for the bonuses they have earned – and sometimes threatened – while bosses pocket their millions.

“When companies perform well, workers deserve their fair share,” McManus said, declaring the country’s bargaining system broken and failing to deliver for working people.

Unfortunately, it’s yet another clear example showing the system is broken and the rules need to change.

“The bargaining system is busted when Qantas can boot workers’ bonuses years down the road and threaten to take it from them if they speak out,” the ETU’s Murphy said.

“We need to Change the Rules and reset the balance because this shows the bosses have too much power.”


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