October 31st, 2011
05:13 AM GMT
“We have decided to ground the Qantas domestic and international fleets immediately,” Joyce said. “I repeat, we are grounding the Qantas fleet now.”
But Joyce’s "shock and awe" strategy earned some respect. “It is a huge and gutsy call. Alan cannot survive a decision like this if it goes wrong,” an unidentified senior aviation industry source told the Financial Times.
But the Qantas union – which has been embroiled in a year-long labor dispute punctuated by rolling walkouts – was caught flat-footed, as was the government of Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and, of course, tens of thousands of Qantas passengers worldwide.
It's "a maniacal overreaction," said Richard Woodward, vice president of the Australian and International Pilots' Union. “I think Alan Joyce is destroying the brand of Qantas; he’s holding the passengers for ransom as he blackmails the government of Australia. Australian Assistant Treasurer Bill Shorten labeled the decision a "high-handed ambush."
"We're conscious the Australian economy has been put at great risk of damage" due to the strike, Shorten said. Labor relations tribunal Fair Work Australia agreed, ordering an end to the labor dispute "to avoid significant damage to the tourism industry."
Some wonder if this was Joyce’s plan all along – to force the government to act on a labor dispute the company claims has cost the company $72.5 million.
Still, the timing of the decision to ground the flight has raised eyebrows: On Friday, the Qantas shareholders voted to approve a 71% pay increase for Joyce even as Qantas management pushed for a restructuring that would eliminate 1,000 staff.
Joyce, a native of Ireland, has been CEO of Qantas since 2008, after a five-year tenure as CEO of Jetstar. Joyce has been pushing a restructuring that would put more focus on expanding its budget airline operations, start a new premium service outside of Australia and cut some long-haul routes.
Maybe Joyce acted out of sheer frustration – he claims to have been the subject of repeated death threats, it was revealed earlier this month.
Whatever the reason, it’s clear Joyce is betting his job on Saturday’s hard-ball move. Only time will tell whether the strategy will pay off, or be a career killer.
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