January 3, 200*: Strike Could Ground Qantas—Airline Warned On Foreign ‘Scab’ Workers

Strike Could Ground Qantas

Cath Hart
The Australian
January 03, 2008

QANTAS has ruled out importing temporary skilled workers on 457 visas to break the effect of a looming holiday season strike by 1700 Qantas maintenance workers.

The national carrier's decision to confine its search for replacement workers to the already-stretched local labour market came after new Immigration Minister Chris Evans issued a stern warning that the Labor Government would not tolerate the temporary skilled migration scheme being used to undermine local industrial actions.

The moves have increased the likelihood that Qantas will be temporarily grounded on Wednesday when its licensed engineers – who are required to sign the aircraft out each day and approve any maintenance work – start four-hour rolling stoppages and overtime bans over a pay dispute.

Qantas has been grappling with a series of contingency plans to reduce the impact of the industrial action but it has been dogged by reports that it had been considering importing foreign engineers on so-called 457 temporary work visas to replace the striking workforce and stay in the sky next week.

Senator Evans told The Australian yesterday he would block any attempts to use foreign labour to thwart domestic strike action.

“The Government will not allow the 457 visa scheme to be used as a device to overcome an industrial dispute,” he said in a statement. “The 457 visa class is designed to meet temporary skills shortages where Australian-based labour cannot be sourced.”

Qantas had said on Tuesday that its contingency plans involved employing Australian workers exclusively “at this stage”, but yesterday it ruled out any future moves to use foreign workers in regard to the action.

“Our contingency planning is vital in terms of minimising the impact of threatened action on our operations and our customers,” executive general manager of Qantas engineering David Cox said yesterday.

“It includes the employment of qualified people through an Australian-based company with a strong record in aviation. We don't intend to seek or use 457 visas.”

Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson seized on Senator Evans' comments. “A lot of people would be asking themselves: is it the union movement or the Government that's running Australia,” Dr Nelson said.

The Australian Licensed Engineers Association, which is planning the industrial action, welcomed Senator Evans' comments. ALAEA federal president Paul Cousins said the minister's comments effectively limited Qantas's ability to respond to next week's industrial action.

“Qantas have come out and said that at no stage were they going to bring these people in from overseas but I can assure you the minister has cut off an avenue of escape for them,” Mr Cousins said. “There are not enough 'scab' engineers in this country to negate the effect of our industrial action.”

The ALAEA wants Qantas to agree to a 5 per cent pay rise but the company is offering 3 per cent with another 1 per cent in superannuation.

Qantas could potentially source engineers from Jetstar but this is not likely to make up the shortfall.

The potentially crippling strike for Qantas comes as Virgin continues talks to secure approval to run 10 weekly flights to the US west coast.