Exporters hit by Qantas grounding

Exporters of perishable products thrown into disarray today by Qantas grounding

Exporters hit by Qantas grounding
Exporters hit by Qantas grounding

By Anna Game-Lopata | October 31, 2011

Exporters are struggling to find air cargo space for their product following the grounding of the whole Qantas fleet over the weekend.

Air freight agent Towers International was today in the thick of major disruption when contacted, with capacity for export products still unable to be booked, despite termination of the industrial dispute by Fair Work Australia yesterday.

With at least twenty-five years of experience Towers has expertise in exports and imports by air and sea.

Managing Director Glenn Touyz says the company is barely keeping its head above water with the volume of calls received in relation to customers affected by the complete shut-down of Qantas flights.

"We’re so busy, we’re pulling our hair out. We’ve had to change a lot of cargo movements from one site to the other and I’m still in the midst of it all," he tells SCR.

"We still can’t book flights for customers with products due all over the world including Hong Kong and Singapore."

Qantas Freight says supplementary flights from Singapore and Los Angeles have been planned to operate today, subject to regulatory approval, and will be available for uplift of freight.

"It is expected that all Qantas services could be operating as normal by the end of today," says Qantas freight Managing Director Lisa Brock.

"Our international B747-400 and trans-Tasman B767-300 freighter services, Jetstar, Jetstar Asia, QantasLink and QF Tasman flights operated by Jetconnect continue to operate as per published schedules."

While Brock says the priority today will be to re-booking freight currently on hand and accommodating existing bookings, further reports suggest Qantas operations will not resume as normal until Wednesday.

As 70,000 stranded passengers lined international airports over the weekend, Qantas confirmed its freight subsidiaries Express Freighters Australia and Atlas had been unaffected.

Australian Air Express was in shut-down mode along with the rest of the Qantas fleet, as reported to SCR by Australian seafood exporters whose consignments to overseas markets are currently directly impacted.

Given their perishable nature, seafood exports, which account for about 68 per cent of the total value of Australian seafood production, are particularly vulnerable to supply chain disruption.

While exporters in South Australia and Western Australia tell SCR they don’t use Qantas as a carrier (and certainly won’t now) or prefer the sea freight option, others have been forced to cancel finely timed air freight arrangements.

Sydney-based JD's Seafood Export Contractors says product such as prawns and coral reef fish from Queensland, usually flown to domestic markets has had to be moved by road instead.

Capacity for pre-booked product destined for overseas had to be found on alternative airlines in the last minute, causing havoc, anger and the fear that other airlines will take advantage of the situation.

"Space was already at a premium," the company says through a spokesperson.

"This is the last straw for Australian exporters. We’re such a small market, in Australia and we’re already suffering with the high Australian dollar. We did not need this.

"Qantas isn’t the only air freight company around," the spokesperson adds.

"We’ll certainly be thinking twice about using its services. They’re just too unreliable."

According to the Transport Workers Union, who has Freight Business workers under its jurisdiction, the heart of the dispute is Qantas refusing to agree to the same job security provisions that hundreds of other companies, including in the aviation industry, recently agreed to.

"These arrangements provide flexibility to an employer and certainty to employees," says TWU national Secretary Tony Sheldon.

The union says Qantas agreed, then reneged on an agreement to limit overseas contractors in the Freight division to 25 percent.

However Qantas Chief Alan Joyce argues the TWU is one of three unions trying to "dictate how we run Qantas".

"Whether it is the pilots’ union demanding the right to dictate pilot pay rates in Jetstar, or the licensed engineers demanding a veto on the modernisation of work practices, or the TWU wanting to limit our use of contractors, they are not representative of the broader union movement," he says.

"They want to be paid to do work that no longer exists due to the advent of new aircraft, they want to retain outdated work practices and they want to tell us what we can and can’t change."

The dispute was forced to an end this morning when Fair Work Australia granted the Australian Government’s application to terminate all industrial action by the Australian Licenced Engineers Union, the Transport Workers Union, the Australian and International Pilots Union and Qantas.

Under the orders issued by Fair Work Australia, there will now be up to 21 days of negotiations between the parties.

No industrial action can take place during this period. If no agreement is reached during this period, binding arbitration will take place under the control of Fair Work Australia.

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