Qantas seeks conciliation talks with pilots

SYDNEY, Aug 31, 2011 (AFP) - Qantas Airways held conciliation talks with unions Wednesday at the airline's request as the Australian carrier attempts to avert strike action by its long-haul pilots.

The airline and the Australian and International Pilots' Association (AIPA) have been at loggerheads for a year over a contract dispute about outsourcing to Asia, as well as wages and conditions.

It has led to low-level industrial action by pilots -- their first in 45 years.

A major sticking point has been the union's demand that a new clause is included in contracts to stop Qantas from potentially outsourcing pilots to cheaper bases in Asia.

The request for talks Wednesday by Qantas before workplace tribunal Fair Work Australia comes barely a week after it announced a five-year plan to turn its loss-making international arm around, with an emphasis on Asia.

"Qantas is committed to reaching a fair agreement with its 1,650 long-haul pilots," it said ahead of the talks that will continue on September 8 and 9.

The airline added that it was "willing to negotiate reasonable increases in pay and conditions as well as productivity improvements that help position Qantas international operations for future growth".

However, it reiterated that the pilot's current demands would drive up airfares, cost jobs and make Qantas unprofitable.

Under its planned revamp, Qantas will launch two new airlines -- a premium joint venture based in Asia for which it is yet to name its partner and location -- and a budget carrier, Jetstar Japan.

The major recalibration towards Asia, aimed at stemming financial losses due to surging oil prices and its slipping market share, will cost 1,000 jobs.

AIPA vice president Captain Richard Woodward said the union's position remained unchanged.

"We want Qantas pilots to remain behind the controls of Qantas flights. We remain completely open to negotiate on how to achieve that," he said.

"AIPA believes Fair Work Australia understands the broad perspective of Qantas pilots well."

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