Pilots urge probe of Qantas grounding

By Martin Parry, AFP

SYDNEY — The Australian pilots union Tuesday demanded a full inquiry into the grounding of Qantas’s fleet after reports that couriers were booked to deliver staff lockout notices days before the announcement. Airline chief Alan Joyce told a Senate inquiry that he only made the decision on Oct. 29, the same day as the shock grounding and 24 hours after the company’s annual general meeting. The Australian and International Pilots Association, which represents 1,600 long-haul pilots, claims new revelations contradict this. Association Vice President Richard Woodward said it fuelled speculation that the move, which left tens of thousands of passengers stranded across the world, was pre-planned. “If these allegations are correct, it would appear Mr. Joyce has lied to the Australian people and it would appear he has lied under oath to a Senate inquiry,” said Woodward. “A judicial inquiry with the powers of a royal commission is now needed to get to the bottom of this and uncover the truth.

“The commission must look at whether shareholders were misled at the AGM and identify whether the public and the Qantas workforce were lied to.” The new claims were aired by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) which spoke to drivers from Direct Couriers who said they were were booked to deliver staff notices in the days leading up to the grounding announcement. The couriers told the ABC they were asked to work on Sunday October 30 as part of a mass delivery of the lockout notices. “I was asked on Friday (Oct. 28),” said one courier, who remained anonymous. “We were told they had a one-off job on Sunday and we would start at 6:00 a.m. We weren’t told we might have a job, we were told we had a job.” A second courier added: “On the Thursday I was asked if I wanted to work Sunday — an all-dayer. We were told we could work any area we liked and it was delivering letters.” Joyce dismissed the allegations. “We have been very clear on this and there’s been lots on conspiracy theories,” he said. “There was no decision made till the Saturday. We had contingency plans that were being prepared before the Saturday. But no decision had been made till the Saturday.” Qantas is locked in a bitter row with unions over pay and conditions which was Monday sent to arbitration after talks called in the wake of the grounding failed to find a compromise. The carrier and unions representing pilots, engineers and ground staff were given 21 days to resolve their dispute after the industrial relations tribunal stepped in to order that the airline end the grounding. But talks with the Transport Workers’ Union and those representing pilots and engineers were called off before Monday’s midnight deadline after all issues could not be resolved.