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Qantas Airways faces a new challenge from its unionised pilots

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Jul 19, 2003

Qantas Airways faces a new challenge from its unionised pilots to its goal of cutting costs on low-yield routes by switching them to its no-frills airline, Jetstar.

A slate of new candidates for the Australian and International Pilots Association management committee wants the union to take Qantas to court, saying that as Jetstar grows, it is eroding the position of the 2400 pilots working under a more lucrative contract for the full-service flag carrier.

The change could be challenged under the "transmission of business" laws in labour legislation, said Captain Ian Woods, the 25-year Qantas veteran and 747-400 pilot who heads the AIPA Reform Group, and wants to be union president.

But the pilots first want to talk to Qantas, Mr Woods said.

"The hope is that we can develop communication and have frank discussions with people and tell them that pilots are not bus drivers and they won't be treated like bus drivers."
Qantas said it did not comment on union election campaigns.

"We do have an industrial agreement with Jetstar pilots and we also have an agreement with AIPA regarding Jetstar pilots,"an airline spokeswoman said.

The airline needed to stop paying Jetstar pilots far less than those flying for Qantas, or rival Virgin Blue, Mr Woods said.

In return, pilots can help Qantas by working with new technology, such as the next generation of long-range airplanes allowing Qantas to fly direct to Rome, Paris and other long-haul destinations.

This will help it cut out "hub" carriers, such as Singapore Airlines and Emirates, which have been eroding its international customer base.
"Qantas is burdened with a lot of work practices that result in demarcation," Mr Woods said.

"The management would be surprised about the level of understanding for Qantas to take hard decisions."

The four-week ballot for 20 out of the 40 places on the AIPA management committee begins today.
There was a challenge for control of the union almost every year, said Captain Robin Holt, who has been president for two years.

"We maintain a very close watching brief," Mr Holt said. "We're acutely aware of the realities of the marketplace."

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