To Be or Not to Be, That is the Question 

Over the past few days I have been attending the Australian Federation of Air Pilots (AFAP) 50th annual conference in Melbourne. The AFAP has a long (obviously) and proud history of representing the pilots of Australia. 

 In 1981 the association split with the formation of the Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA), representing QANTAS group pilots ostensibly; “ response to the changing aviation environment of the time and the need to enhance the industrial position of Qantas technical aircrew.” In recent times (days) a further association has been registered as VIPA (within the Virgin group) splintering the representation of pilots. Meanwhile the fragmentation of major carriers, as new business entities are created to place “corporate veils” between the parent companies and their wholly owned subsidiaries, continues to divide and conquer workplace collectives. Qantas v Jetstar is perhaps the best known of these to us but elsewhere other examples abound. This is not a one off strategy but rather appears to be becoming the corporate norm.

In our own recent ATC and Supporting Services agreement some of you will have noted Clause 4.1 (c)(iii) covering parties bound which specifically includes; “...those classifications and positions in any new locations, new projects and new activities.” This particular clause was the subject of quite heated debate and was specifically included when a leaked board paper examining TAAATS replacements contemplated a “greenfields” enterprise effectively replacing TAAATS in toto with a new start up. Why this is significant is that at the time there was specific legislation that allowed such an arrangement to effectively exterminate previous collective agreements and institute a transitional arrangement whilst negotiating new terms and conditions for the new site/operation.   This threat has changed with the new Fair Work Act however I guess the reason I flag this is that you should not feel secure in the thought that it could not happen to us.

So, if the fragmentation of workplaces or corporate entities is having an effect in the Australian workplace, particularly in aviation, what is the effect of globalisation? In 1983 Australia entered into a trans-Tasman agreement entitled Closer Economic Relations (CER). In 1996 “Single Aviation Market” policies were formalised in an “Open Skies” agreement with NZ in early 2000, and last year saw a further “Open Skies” agreement with the US. Clearly, as the world shakes itself as a result of the global financial crisis, open trade agreements are going to abound and globalisation of many industries is a reality. Many economic pundits have prophesised a single currency in the south Pacific and the formation of a formal economic community (ANZEC?). Some have even gone so far as amalgamation of two or more nations into a single sovereign entity (Anztralia[1]?).

Already, in New Zealand, Qantas group operates subsidiaries wholly from Australia. The harsh reality of the process is that it pits not only the Airlines against each other in competing for the market but also the unions that represent workers. In the case of the pilots it could be the case that associations may directly compete for survival as the representation of members crosses international boundaries. In February of this year AFAP, AIPA and NZALPA entered into a tripartite agreement to operate cooperatively. How this will actually work is still being thrashed out but it must be seen as a positive move. On the local front amalgamation of AFAP and AIPA may be a pipe dream but the power of a single representative body would far outweigh the sum of influence of the separate parties.

I’ll turn for a bit to examination of NZALPA. NZALPA represents a diverse workforce of pilots from GA to Air New Zealand, and many other RPT operations. They also represent ATC. In a rationalisation of trade unions in the late 80’s requiring unions to have not less than 1000 members the controllers of New Zealand threw their lot in with the pilots. People of sufficient vintage may recall a similar requirement in Australia in which Civil Air survived by virtue of the specialisation of its representation. This has given significant extra value to both categories of membership in an industrial sense by virtue of a much larger collective (albeit separated by workplace in their ability to conduct industrial action) and professionally by virtue of an in-built multi-disciplinary approach to legal, technical and other professional matters.

“So where the hell is this leading Rob?” I hear you ask. I posited in June, post NZALPA conference, that the time was ripe for a formal working relationship with the major Australian pilots’ associations. Further than that, in light of the tripartite trans-Tasman agreement it may well be time to consider committing to becoming party to that agreement. Looking back at the NAS debacle we can see that Ted Lang seemed to become the defacto industry representative for pilots and controllers alike. The fact that the main industrial and professional parties were together on this matter contributed in no small part to the eventual outcome (did someone say “rollback”). Unfortunately what has tended to happen is crisis mode cooperation rather than a proactive approach. In our own workplace it seems unlikely that Australia would want to cede its sovereign rights and responsibilities under the Chicago Convention to another nation or perhaps private corporate entity. But... Australia already provides services for the FAA, Solomon Islands and Nauru doesn’t it?

In our own system we provide services from Brisbane and Melbourne with Canberra and Coolangatta approach operated remotely. In Sweden a remote tower operation proof of concept is being trialled and Airservices has already indicated its desire to utilise a similar solution for Karratha. You may recall Airways Corp (NZ ATC) kindly offering to take over Australian oceanic airspace to help their brothers across the ditch with staff shortages. Virtually all of the technology requirements actually exist. How long before somebody decides to do it? It might mean no more doggos as we transfer operations to a call centre on the other side of the world but it also might mean no more local jobs.

Globalisation is not a fairy at the bottom of the garden. It is here and now. What is happening elsewhere in the world could just as easily happen in Oz. A cooperative approach between the related industrial and professional bodies within Australia and with her sovereign neighbours, before the cross-border issues become pitched battles, seems an obvious path to consider.I don’t think that a hostile takeover of Civil Air or indeed Australia “annexing” New Zealand is something on the cards (in the near term at least) but the advantages of closer cooperation seem compelling. Maybe it’s the champagne, maybe it’s the moonlight, but I’m thinking that working together may be better than each attacking separately.


Robert Mason
President, Civil Air
15 September, 2009

[1] Remember you heard it here first when it catches on.