Can Qantas trash its reputation any faster than it has been in recent months? Having spent most of the pandemic clamouring to be allowed to begin operating again, Alan Joyce’s airline returned to the skies unable to provide the most basic services consistently — on-time flights (or simply flights that aren’t cancelled), efficient processing of passengers, peak-demand management, customer service, baggage arriving at the same destination (or not disappearing into some void from which nothing ever returns).
Throughout this period, Joyce and his team have blamed everyone else. First it was passengers who were not “match fit”. Then it was airports that were to blame for not having enough staff. Then it was the labour market and shortages of workers — after Qantas had illegally sacked thousands of baggage handlers during the pandemic.
Joyce, it seems, always has an excuse for why a once-great airline is now regarded as a social media joke and barely worthy of the description “full service”.
The abiding theme of Joyce’s management of the decline of Qantas is his passionate loathing of his workforce. This is the man who shut the entire airline down in 2011 rather than deal with engineers, pilots and transport workers and their unions, who used the pandemic to sack 6000 workers, on top of another 7000 workers also sacked under Joyce.
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The loss of Qantas staff has tracked its decline from a respected airline to the butt of jokes.
The fact that it now doesn’t have enough staff to answer phones, crew to fly planes, or workers for its outsourced baggage-handling operation is all completely on Joyce and his attitude of belligerent grievance toward the people who make the airline run day after day.
What’s fascinating is that Joyce has been able to get away with it. He is still taken seriously in the media, especially the business media that adores his hatred of workers, and is allowed to opine on all manner of subjects — most recently energy (Peter Dutton famously upbraided him in 2017 for not “sticking to his knitting” on marriage equality).
Yesterday, as travellers around the country and around the world waited for delayed or cancelled flights, wondered where their baggage had gone, and wasted time waiting to talk to a human on the phone, Joyce was at it again, spruiking biofuels.
There’s an interesting question here about whether Joyce would have gotten away with trashing Qantas if he wasn’t a white male.
What if a female CEO had shut down an entire airline in a fit of pique because she had to negotiate with unions? Or illegally sacked hundreds of workers, outsourced baggage handling and then lamented that there weren’t enough workers? Or was in charge of an airline with a rapidly deteriorating on-time performance?
The fate of some other senior female business figures is instructive. While Qantas has been privately owned for decades and thus suffers no overt political interference, the highly successful Christine Holgate was driven out of Australia Post for trivial “offences” around bonuses, and abused in Parliament by the prime minister.
Raelene Castle was forced out of Rugby Australia after a long-term campaign of criticism by opponents as the code faced major structural challenges — challenges it is still struggling with nearly two years on. AMP chair Catherine Brenner took the fall for the revelation of AMP’s rotten culture. At Qantas-rival Virgin (which Joyce campaigned against a bailout for, despite enjoying one himself), Jayne Hrdlicka has been the target of vague allegations of “bullying”.
In contrast, Joyce presides over the decline of an iconic company with apparent impunity, the next excuse ever at the ready, the next round of job cuts being prepared for the delight of sharemarkets and The Australian Financial Review. It’s an airline run not for customers stuck with an aviation duopoly, and certainly not for the country, but for shareholders.
This article was first published by Crikey.