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Did Ansett's Workplace Practices Help Them Crash?

Thursday, June 13th, 2002

Did Ansett's Workplace Practices Help Crash The Airline?

Many complex factors can contribute to a company's downfall, amongst them workplace practices and employment performance if a company's struggling, says Jim McDonald, a senior lecturer in industrial relations at Queensland University.

"But work practices are only ever part of a much bigger picture," he said.

"To sheet the collapse of Ansett home to any particular condition has to be treated with some caution. For example, the problems Ansett had with maintenance seemed to be a managerial problem rather than a work practices problem.

"Nevertheless there needs to be a better effort in bringing employees on side, and that's where I think Qantas operated much better than Ansett."

Mr McDonald is a key speaker at next week's Employment Relations Conference (June 20th, 21st Sheraton, Auckland) hosted by the Employers & Manufacturers Association (Northern). He will discuss in detail the extent that Ansett's downfall was brought about by workplace practices.

Other speakers at the EMA conference include:
* Chief Judge Thomas Goddard
* Professor Peter Boxall, University of Auckland
* Professor Pat Walsh, Industrial Relations Centre, Victoria University
* Alastair Dumbleton, Chief of Employment Relations Authority
* Dr Doug Northey, HR Director, Auckland University
* Anne Knowles, Business New Zealand
* Ross Wilson, CTU
* Phil Skelton, Russell McVeagh
* Glen Petersen, Fonterra

Jim McDonald said if you have decision making conducted in a climate of communication and participation you bring people along with you.

"It should be an easy thing since the dedication and loyalty of people to their companies is often very high. But change has to have the undivided support of senior management or it's not going to happen.

"Qantas, because it was privatized and merged (with Australian Airways) had to address corporate culture and they went about it in a quite a measured and planned way. Ansett tried to do the same but they didn't have the same immediacy to meld together two quite different cultures.

"Qantas set up protocols for example in dealing with quite radical changes in terms of work practices whereas there was no evidence of that at all in Ansett.

"Ansett didn't seem to make any successful strategic adjustments to the changed circumstances (of the deregulation of the airline industry in Australia.)

"Whether Australia, or Australia and New Zealand for that matter, can support more than two airlines is also a factor."

At the EMA Conference Mr McDonald will compare the labour costs of Qantas and Ansett, assess the number of disputes each generated, and compare their enterprise agreement documents as "these are good proxies for work practices."

"You can't just walk into a place these days and say 'what are your work practices?'"

Mr McDonald is a former union representative for the Australian airline Flight Engineers Association, and the Victoria Public Service Association. He's been a senior lecturer at Queensland University for the past 12 years.


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