Sunday, October 30, 2011

More injured fingers and a very injured airline

C, my 2 and a half year old, got her hand stuck in a door hinge yesterday. The *whole* hand, which, as it turned out, was probably a blessing, as it diffused the pinch enough that she probably doesn't have a broken finger (although we do have an x-ray appointment tomorrow to make sure).

It does, however, look awful, is clearly very sore, and we think she's likely to shed the fingernail on her middle finger soon.
In many ways it reminds me of the Great Scissor Catastrophe of February, with all the attendant finger care and appeasing empained and cranky small people.

In an ironic twist of fate, the inadvertent injurer in this case was Miss 6, who was herself the victim of accidental finger damage in February. This time, although I devoutly wish it hadn't happened, am very sorry for both C and E (who's guilt-stricken), and will pay greater attention to door safety reinforcement in the future, I'm not beating myself up about it. It not only wasn't my fault, it wasn't even something I could have reasonably prevented. Not feeling guilty is helping me be a calmer and more soothing parent this time around, I think, and that's all to the good.

Of course, while C's poor fingers may be the biggest news in our private universe, most of the action in Australian commentary at the moment is revolving around the killing of three Australian soldiers in Afghanistan and the Qantas lock-out of staff, which has caused a fleet-wide grounding of planes and a massive tsunami of disruption, angst and trouble.

About the soldiers killed in Afghanistan I have nothing to add other than my thoughts and sympathies to the families. It's a tragedy and one that will no doubt give rise to more discussion about what Australian forces' role in Afghanistan is or should be. I have no expertise in this area and no desire to enter this debate, so I'll leave it just with that.

I do have opinions about the Qantas debacle, though. (Who doesn't? Certainly not anyone on Twitter, which has been on fire ever since Alan Joyce's presser where the lock-out was announced).

In case you're unfamiliar with it (I can't imagine anyone is, but you never know), this it the situation. Qantas, after months of sour negotiations with three of the 15 unions that cover their staff (the Transport Workers Union, the pilot's association, and the engineers' union), which have been punctuated by various kinds of industrial action on the unions' part, yesterday announced that they would be locking out the workers in all affected unions, and - this is the kicker - therefore grounding their ENTIRE air fleet. IMMEDIATELY. Until they got a guarantee that industrial action would stop - not pause, while negotiations could continue, but stop, outright.

To say that this represents an extreme measure would be the understatement of this or any other century.

In essence, this seems to me to an incredibly hard-line move on Qantas's part, one that underlines in thick red ink how utterly determined they are to get their way at any cost, and "break" the unions. The fact that this is taking place at the expense of the travelling public, business, tourism, their own employees (both involved in industrial action and those totally uninvolved) and their own brand seems irrelevant. In any other context, I'd call this behaviour a tantrum ... actually, perhaps I'd call it bullying. It is absolutely, as someone noted, a knife to the throat of the Australian government and the unions, and it makes me intensely cross that corporations can behave like this.

Bottom line is that Qantas is acting in the worst possible faith in this matter. The vote, just 24 hours earlier, to give CEO Alan Joyce a whopping payrise; the lack of a heads-up to staff, unions or the Australian government; the timing of the action to coincide with major travel events such as the Melbourne Cup and (embarassingly for Australia) the Perth CHOGM meeting; the fact that Qantas continued to this lock-out even though the unions had agreed to suspend planned industrial action for several weeks so negotiations could continue; the announcing of 1,000 Australian job losses in the same year as profits are high and while union pay negotiations are ongoing ... This smells to me like we, the Australian public, are being played. I think this is all quite deliberate, planned, intentional and harmful bludgeoning of a large Australian workforce, and I am horrified to think they may get away with it, at least in part.

I realise that it's probable that the three unions are being intransigent and aggressive in their tactics; that's not unusual, nor is it admirable. While I count myself as a firm supporter of unionism (as a concept and a force to create equitable outcomes), I don't admire or support everything that individual unions do. I don't necessarily blame Qantas management for being frustrated with the negotiations.

But to lock out your workforce? To basically say, Do it our way, no discussion, or no jobs at all for you? To do this even though it will cost you much, much cash and much more in reputational damage? To do this even though it will harm so many associated industries, and so many passengers? To do this without warning or notice?

It's bad behaviour, pure and simple. Bad, unethical, unfair, and unconscionable. And I am hoping - seriously hoping - that the Fair Work Tribunal agrees and terminates the lock out today.

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