1989 Australian pilots' dispute
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The 1989 Australian pilots' dispute was one of the most expensive and dramatic industrial disputes in Australia's history. It was co-ordinated by the Australian Federation of Air Pilots (AFAP) after a prolonged period of wage suppression, to support its campaign for a large pay increase (which it quantified at 29.47%, though such claims usually form a starting position for negotiations).
The dispute began impacting the public on 18 August 1989 with pilots working "9-5" and was never formally resolved due to the mass resignation of pilots, cancellation of their award and de-recognition of their Union.
As part of this campaign, AFAP pilots imposed on their employers (Ansett Australia, East-West, Ipec and Australian Airlines) a limitation on the hours they were prepared to work, arguing that if they were to be treated in exactly the same way as other employee groups (the stance adopted by the Government), their work conditions should also be the same. This initially took the form of making themselves available for flying duties only within the normal office working hours of 9am to 5pm.
The dispute severely disrupted domestic air travel in Australia and had a major detrimental impact on the tourism industry and many other businesses. The Royal Australian Air Force provided some limited domestic air services at the time to ease the impact of the strike. For a while, some overseas airlines operated charter 737 and 757 aircraft in east coast routes, and travel between Perth and Sydney was via Singapore, using international flights. The dispute was superficially resolved after the mass resignation of a significant number of domestic airline pilots to avoid litigation from the employers. The employers obtained significant support from the Labor government and 'successfully' recruited new pilots from overseas.
Hawke diverted public funds to the airlines and was a very close friend of Sir Peter Abeles, the part owner and joint managing director of Ansett. "Abeles position as a close confidant of Hawke aroused suspicion, particularly during the 1989 airline strike when prime minister Hawke's action in taking on the pilots' union enabled both major airlines to enter the deregulated market in a far more competitive position."
The RAAF ceased ‘public transport operations’ on 15-Dec-1989, by 31-Dec-1989 regular leasing of seats on International flights ceased and by 12-Jan-1990 the Government ceased to waive landing charges. The airlines were able to slowly return to normal schedules as they hired replacement pilots, making it difficult to set a date for when the Dispute stopped impacting flights, tourism and the economy.
Ansett, Australian Airlines, East-West and Ipec no longer exist. East-West was a subsidiary of Ansett in 1989, and absorbed fully in 1993. Australian Airlines was merged with Qantas in 1992. Ipec was acquired by Toll Holdings in 1998.
This anti-union precedent set by Hawke (Hawke was at one stage the president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions) in the 1989 Pilot's Dispute was later used as a template in the bitter waterfront dispute by a subsequent conservative government. "This bitter dispute set precedents for workplace relations which have undoubtedly influenced today's industrial climate."
- An account written by an ex-pilot who was involved in the dispute
- An Australian Parliamentary Library discussion paper [DEAD LINK. Avail at https://web.archive.org/web/20120206142030/http://www.aph.gov.au/library/pubs/cib/1997-98/98cib03.htm]