Qantas staff threaten strike over contract workers

SYDNEY, March 22, 2011 (AFP) - Thousands of Qantas staff on Tuesday threatened strike action unless the airline did more to limit the use of cheap contract workers.

Any walk-out would involve about 9,000 employees including pilots, airline refuellers, baggage and transport staff and engineers, the influential Transport Workers Union federal secretary Tony Sheldon said.

"We've said to Qantas that there are 9,000 members of the Transport Workers Union, and workers right across this industry, who expect the company to negotiate," he told reporters.

"And the simple answer has been they (Qantas) are not prepared to negotiate on job security, on safety for the Australian public.

"If that's an issue they won't negotiate on to improve ... then I can see the workforce only taking one step -- which Qantas is aware -- and that is industrial action."

Qantas staff want a four percent pay rise with additional superannuation payments, as well as the job security clauses.

The strike threat comes with Qantas under pressure from rising oil prices and the impact of natural disasters in Japan, New Zealand and Australia.

The airline said it was disappointed the union was threatening industrial action when talks had yet to be held.

"Qantas is not in discussions with the TWU about a new pay agreement and is not due to be until July and these threats are just a grab for media attention," Qantas said in comments emailed to AFP.

"This so called 'job security' claim is a union tactic to remove any flexibility the company has to deal with the volatile nature of the aviation industry.

"We are extremely disappointed that the unions are putting their unrealistic demands ahead of the interests of the travelling public."

Last month, Qantas posted a four-fold increase in half-year net profits to Aus$241 million ($240.6 million).

Despite the huge profit margins, Sheldon said service had suffered as more contract workers were used.

"You ask anyone who catches a flight for Qantas and they've seen the deterioration of service -- the decrease in flight attendants, the planes that don't get serviced, sometimes the shoddy equipment that gets used," he said.

"And it's continuing to deteriorate and that's because of outsourcing."

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