Qantas chairman Richard Goyder hits out at Labor’s IR bill

Qantas chairman Richard Goyder has defended the airline’s reputation for playing “hard ball” on staff pay deals and hit out at the federal government’s proposed reforms to industrial relations.

Goyder told shareholders at the company’s annual general meeting on Friday that the government’s bill, which would give workers the ability to strike agreements across a number of employers in the same industry, has the power to “centralise wage negotiations” and make it harder for employers long term.

Qantas chairman Richard Goyder.Credit:Louie Douvis

“We’re concerned the proposed changes effectively dismantle the enterprise bargaining system that has served Australia well for decades,” Goyder said, adding while wage growth is pivotal to improving the standard of living in low paid industries, Qantas does not fall into that category. Goyder said the average non-executive salary at Qantas is above $100,000 and about 85 per cent of its workforce is covered by enterprise agreements negotiated with unions.

“It’s often portrayed Qantas plays hardball in wage deals. It’s true we have threshold requirements and look for improvements for productivity, but that’s true of most companies. It’s also true that Qantas is the highest paying airline in Australia and one of the highest paid large employers in the country,” Goyder continued.

Just over 90 per cent of voting shareholders backed chief executive Alan Joyce’s $4 million pay packet, despite some criticism from unions and proxy advisors. Under the plan, Joyce will receive 698,000 shares, worth about $4 million in addition to his salary of $2.17 million, up 15 per cent on last year.

Australia’s workplace relations minister Tony Burke wants the Secure Jobs, Better Pay bill- which will introduce industry strike rights and multi-enterprise deals- to be enacted this month. The carrier and some other employer groups are urging for more time to consider the legislation.

Qantas has been under fire this year, with cancelled flights and lost baggage among the issues that have upset passengers. The company said its operational performance improved to pre-COVID-19 levels in October, with its internal figures showing cancellations fell to 2.2 per cent and its mishandled baggage rate had returned to six per 1000 bags.

Goyder dismissed allegations the group’s dismal service earlier in the year were related to the carrier’s decision to outsource ground handling but instead were driven by staff sickness levels which peaked at 20 per cent during Easter. Qantas outsourced baggage ground handling in 2020, resulting in 1700 redundancies. The Federal Court found the move was in breach of the Fair Work Act, a verdict the airline is appealing in the High Court.

The carrier was earlier this week awarded the infamous “shonky” award by consumer group CHOICE for failing to provide “anything close” to premium service.

Qantas accused CHOICE of reverting to out of date data and ignoring the complexities of COVID-19’s effect on aviation.

“No one is disputing the fact we had issues earlier this year, and we’ve apologised for that. It’s disappointing that Choice failed to acknowledge the impact that COVID and border closures have had.”

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