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Qantas strike threats go global

SYDNEY, Apr 6 – Australia\’s Qantas could face picket lines, protests and go-slow action by baggage handlers worldwide after unions warned Wednesday they were mulling a global strike against the airline.

The International Transport Workers\’ Federation (ITF) said the group\’s executive would meet in London next week to discuss broader action against Qantas, which is facing a strike in Australia over pay and conditions.

About 9,000 staff have threatened to walk out over the company\’s dispute with the Transport Workers\’ Union (TWU), and tensions escalated this week when Qantas said it was training managers as potential "strike-breakers".

ITF general secretary David Cockroft condemned the program, saying it "seriously call(ed) into question whether Qantas management are actually sincere about any future negotiations with their own personnel".

"Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has publicly said before that he will bargain in good faith with his workforce. It’s difficult to see how that can be compatible with these alleged tactics," Cockroft said in a statement.

Paddy Crumlin, ITF president and head of the powerful Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) told local media Qantas could face industrial action at airports in the US, Britain, Europe and Japan if it went ahead with strike-busting action.

Picket lines, union protests at check-in counters and go-slow action by baggage handlers were among tactics reportedly being considered.

"The ITF has no sympathy or tolerance for any employer, wherever they are based, which seeks to undermine the collective bargaining rights of an established workforce," said Crumlin.

"It is an ITF policy priority to return the airline industry to fair and sustainable labour standards."

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Qantas said both the pilots\’ and engineers\’ unions had ruled out taking industrial action over the Easter holidays this month, and Joyce was hopeful of resolving the dispute.

"We want to work with all of our employees to reach new agreements and we remain committed to finding common ground with the unions," said Joyce.

"The Transport Workers\’ Union agreement does not expire until July 2011 and negotiations are expected to commence in May," he added.

Qantas had recently reached in-principle agreement on new contracts with another union, the Australian Services Union, which Joyce said would "shortly be put to 7,500 workers for a vote".

"Our priority is to ensure customers can visit family and friends and go on holidays without disruptions from union-led strikes," he said.

Crumlin\’s MUA were at the centre of Australia\’s 1998 waterfront dispute — a seven-week strike that followed the sacking of thousands dock workers in one of the country\’s largest and best-known industrial stand-offs.

Security guards with dogs were famously deployed to remove picketers on the docks and TWU secretary Tony Sheldon said the spectre "of men in balaclavas and German shepherds" still loomed large in the public memory.

Crumlin said the MUA successfully saw off "attempts to train strike-breakers abroad during the 1998 dispute" and "would not hesitate to do the same again should we be required to do so".

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