Representing Qantas LAME members is always a balancing act between those who want us to constantly take up the fight and others who desire us to be more conservative. Of course, it’s not possible to please all members all of the time. I do, however, appreciate the support we receive from members at both ends of the scale for the various approaches we use. During periods of protected industrial action, conservative members have led the way out the gate. When patience or compromise has been required the more combative members have also supported us.
Having been making all attempts to foster harmony with the airline, it may be time to reflect on the pros and cons of that approach. When friendships are struck the relationship should work two ways. I am convinced that the people at the top of the airline would like to think this is happening. However, at floor level it certainly is not. For at least 12 months I have raised countless concerns with the HR, IR and middle-management personnel I deal with. Virtually none of the issues have been resolved. Some people within the management structure appear to be taking advantage of a tamer ALAEA and see it as an opportunity to push our members around and/or ignore the agreements that have been made between the parties.
We will not sit back and allow this to happen any further. We aren’t going to jeopardize our better relationship with senior management by airing our grievances publically however a number of areas where we believe Engineering Managers are, or have been, breaking the law or our agreements, will now be challenged in court rooms. Towards the end of this notice I will briefly explain six cases that are currently with our law firm either ready, or being prepared, to be lodged.
Along with the pending legal action, we are also in discussions with management at all levels attempting to work out how to best move forward. The most positive of these was a recent invite from Alan Joyce for the ALAEA to be part of the early meeting process for consideration of options for maintenance on the 787. Although a welcome step, we are also aware that countless rumors are circulating and, in some departments, middle managers are saying that productivity increases would be needed for Qantas to win this work. As far as we are concerned, Qantas Engineers handle jets flying Qantas sectors and any selection of another maintenance provider would be a breach of our EA.
Last Friday some of you would have received a survey monkey email link to an important survey we are undertaking. This is a two-purpose survey integral to the behind the scenes discussions and preparations for upcoming court cases and negotiations. The second half of the survey is about staffing levels in your department and the problems associated with the low fat business those with lean six sigma black belts have created. The rest of the survey relates to managers and their performance.
Many of you look up to those in Engineering Management positions, or at least should. There will be a day, maybe not too far off, when a big broom is used to sweep out all the Managers who aren’t pulling their weight. When that day arrives, we want to make sure that the good guys stay and the bullies are identified and shunted off to the railways. So far 300 members have filled in this survey and the information already being attained is priceless (if you are having issues using a phone to complete the survey please try a computer). The link will be sent again and I urge all members to take the 10 minutes providing answers. Without mentioning names in this notice, here is a running tally of results related to one manager who is clearly respected by LAMEs in his section:
….and another who may hide in his office all day to avoid eye contact with the troops.
Ultimately we hope to have at least 500 responses to the survey. After this, subject to legal advice, the results will be released. The ALAEA thinks it important for managers at all levels to be held accountable for their actions. In our view those who perform well should be rewarded and those who spend each day picking on LAMEs should be given an opportunity to pick on railway workers instead.
Before I describe the various cases, I’d like to briefly give you an idea of how the legal system operates in relation to employment law cases and why we are tackling things the way we are. The reality is far more complex than this simplistic explanation but, for the purposes of the notice, it will suffice. When we want to take an issue “to court”there are usually two options. One is the Fair Work Commission (“FWC”) and the other is the Federal Court or it’s lower division; the Federal Circuit Court. The Federal Circuit Court also has a small claims division where an applicant can recover up to a maximum of $20,000 in unpaid wages, entitlements etc.
The Fair Work Commission process is much quicker and less expensive. It is not compulsory to use a solicitor or barrister and often I, or another ALAEA staff member, will present our case. The Commissioners come from various fields, sometimes they are ex-union officials or former lawyers or advisors from right-wing law firms or industry groups. In my view, the results handed down from the FWC can be a bit hit and miss. That is, it seems to be lottery sometimes on who will win. Additionally, if Qantas are found guilty of doing something wrong by the FWC, the FWC does not have any ability or power to fine the airline for breaking the law. They are just ordered to correct the problem and put measures in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again. That’s often not much use after a breach has already occurred.
The Federal Court path is far stricter and only practicing solicitors can present a case on behalf of others, often working with at least one barrister. It takes much more time and is much more expensive. Decisions can still go either way however if Qantas are found guilty of breaking the law, they get fined and may have to pay damages to anyone they harmed in the course of breaking the law or breaching a workplace agreement. Those fines can be paid to the crown or the ALAEA to cover our costs and damages awarded to individuals. We have had two major victories in the past in this jurisdiction against the airline.
First was a case involving our member Luke Murray where it was proven that Qantas and their Manager Peter Cawthorne had treated him adversely and subjected Luke to illegal coercion. The result was upheld after Qantas appealed. It was one of the first successful cases using these parts of the Fair Work Act and now if you pick up a hard copy of the Fair Work Act the example case referenced is the case against Qantas Airways brought by the Association on Luke’s behalf. Qantas and the Manager Cawthorne were fined heavily for their actions.
The other recent case won by us in the Federal jurisdiction was a breach of our Enterprise Agreement consultation provisions. It was when the airline was removing transit checks. They were found guilty of the consultation breach and fined nearly the maximum amount possible with critical words from the judge. He reminded Qantas, and companies in general, that they should not deliberately or knowingly breach Enterprise Agreement terms and see the corresponding fines as nothing more than a cost of doing business. These two cases have set the airline up for a much bigger fall if we can demonstrate that there is a pattern of breaches and behavior that is deliberate and ongoing.
The six cases listed below will not go to the Fair Work Commission but will go to the Federal Court or Federal Circuit Court. The stakes are high and as the process is crawling forward, we ask members to be patient. It suits us to have time here because it allows us to fully prepare for hearings. It also allows time for Qantas to potentially realise that they have made mistakes and act appropriately against the Managers who have breached Qantas policy, our EA and the ideals of the harmonious relationship we are attempting to maintain.
We can resolve the disputes individually or collectively if out of court settlements are agreed. The survey we are undertaking may be vitally important to the outcome of any settlements.
As stated earlier, here is a summary of the cases I am referring to.
Brisbane Adverse Action
As mentioned previously, good member Luke Murray is now written into the hard copy of every Fair Work Act in this country being one of the first people ever to succeed proving adverse action and coercion laws against a company. Well, Qantas has done it again and not just in another part of the business; they have done it to the very same bloke, Luke Murray, and his work colleagues.
Without going into the detail of our full case, in short my understanding of it is as follows. Luke works in a small section at Brisbane International Terminal where, some years back, management wanted them to merge with Brisbane Domestic and vote in favour of working the Domestic 12-hour roster. They voted no and that’s when the payback commenced.
Training, postings and higher duties for the International boys, from the day the vote went down, have virtually been nonexistent. In my view the most blatant demonstration of this breach comes in the form of Higher Duties. When the International Senior is away, rather than do as they always did previously and upgrade an International LAME to a Senior, Qantas have been almost exclusively using LAMEs from the Domestic Terminal to act as an International Senior. In some cases, the actor has never worked at International or even acted up in his own section before. As a form of punishment, they are putting these inexperienced acting Seniors in charge of the International guys because they voted down a roster Qantas wanted.
The damages in relation to this claim may tally greater than $500,000 and the fines could be multiplied across all members who form part of this dispute.
Staff Development Clause
Most members would be aware that our EA contains a clause requiring each LAME to be given an opportunity, every 12 months, to discuss their performance and career path with a Senior LAME and/or DMM. We’ve been informed that in many cases these appraisals are not occurring. I raised the matter with management 12 months ago as a potential EA breach but was basically ignored. Yes, my email was answered however nothing has been done to correct the error.
Regularly members contact us after the disappointment of watching others selected for type training. If the Staff Development clause was adhered to by the company, everyone would have had regular feedback and an opportunity to fix any deficiencies and understand career prospects further.
Qantas are well aware they aren’t doing these because it has been raised several times. A test case with about ten members will be run, the breach appears cut and dry and may result in fines for each missed appraisal. That is 10 employees without an appraisal for any of the last 6 years or 60 breaches in total. We suspect there over 1000 LAMEs with missed Staff Development opportunities so any secondary case could be extensive.
Victorian Public Holidays
The lucky Victorians have been granted two additional public holidays by their Labor Premier; Easter Sunday and the Friday before the Grand Final. Earlier this year a Manager notified the Melbourne LAMEs that the company would simply pay out the days by increasing the average shift penalty. Members contacted the ALAEA immediately explaining that they had not consented to the payout and wanted the days off work instead.
The ALAEA wrote to the airline and sought consultation on how the days were managed into the roster. Importantly we highlighted that there was no provision to tamper with the penalties of the previously agreed rostering arrangement and the penalty and/or DIL should just occur depending on how any individual was rostered. The company fobbed us off and refused to meet.
After some follow up communications (demanding consultation again) the company responded by advising that it was too late; they already amended penalties, paid it to the blokes and if we wanted to meet, we would only be talking about the treatment of the new holidays for 2017. I believe, by doing this, it is clear that they deliberately procrastinated until we were in a position of advising members that we were trying to recover the days for them but now they would have to pay back the additional penalties if we succeeded. This is a dirty move by the company which makes us angry. However it comes as no surprise that the decision makers behind these actions would ignore the terms of our EA, they seem to be ignoring everything we raise.
Discussions are moving in the right direction to win back the lost time off however time has passed where the consultation breach occurred and was not rectified in a timely manner. The breach appears deliberate (they were pre-warned in writing several times) and looks like another case of not consulting with the ALAEA.
Right of Entry Breach
As part of suspected Leave Burn and Consultation EA clause breaches, I have attempted to exercise powers bestowed upon me by the Fair Work Act to enter Qantas premises to investigate the suspected breaches. These powers allow me to legally gain access to, and copy, any document linked to the suspected breach.
Last week I entered the Mascot premises and was met by Chris Tobin and the IR bloke, Nick Saunders. They allowed me to interview eight members where I confirmed some of the documents I would need to support our submissions for the leave burn case proper. These were documents such as rosters that should show understaffing. The Managers refused to let me access the requested documents.
Any obstruction by a Manager who refuses access to documents is a civil penalty breach with heavy fines attached. This case is now added to our list.
The fifth breach which may be lodged cannot currently be discussed for legal reasons.
Sydney Leave Burn Case
This case is the most complex of the list. The ALAEA now have about 200 papers that have been completed by members relevant to us to representing them. There have been numerous notices and meetings regarding the topic so this update will be short.
If the ALAEA succeeds in a court room with this case, damages and fines for the airline could be extensive. The fines could also extend to managers who partook in the steps to breach the terms of the EA. We would hope that a settlement could be reached before that stage; it is being discussed as a possibility with Senior Management. If this step eventuates there would be full briefings for members and a vote on any potential outcome.
My apologies for the long notice but I think it good to get this all out at once so members can understand the juggling act we are trying to perform. With the ever-reliable Paul Staddon having left the ALAEA recently, co-ordination of e-torque has been made all too difficult.
Members are encouraged to report anything that may assist in any of the above matters and if nothing else, please complete the survey as the ultimate outcome and future of our jobs is all in some way linked.