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Qantas Engineers' Strike Disrupts Flight Schedules

Temporary strikes by Qantas engineers carried over into Friday, further disrupting some domestic and international flights as their union held meetings over a wage dispute.

The engineers, who began their strike Thursday, are asking for a 5 percent annual pay increase. Qantas has offered them 3 percent.

Qantas passenger jets parked at their terminal at Sydney Airport.
Mark Baker
Qantas passenger jets parked at their terminal at Sydney Airport.

To press their demand, about 100 engineers in Sydney refused to certify aircraft for four hours Thursday morning; about 100 more in Brisbane went on strike for four hours in the evening.

Another 100 stopped work in Melbourne for four hours Friday until noon, forcing Australia's flagship airline to cancel eight flights

The Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association said the stop-work was necessary to safeguard the pay and service standards of the airline.

Qantas prepared for the strike ahead of time by canceling some of its flights for Thursday and Friday. Ten flights were canceled Thursday in Sydney and Brisbane.

CEO Geoff Dixon said Thursday he would not negotiate with the union while strikes were ongoing. On Thursday, he told Fairfax Radio Network that he would not give in to the engineers' demands.

"I think their claim is out of order and we're not going to entertain it," Dixon said.. "We've got the long-term future of the company in mind more than anything else and if it means that some of our passengers have some discomfort for a while that will be the case."

The engineers and their union say Qantas' profit record proves it can afford the salary increase, and they point out that Dixon received a 22 percent pay raise last year.

"Wages have been growing at less than half the rate of profit over a number of years now," Australian Council of Trade Unions President Sharon Burrow told reporters Thursday. "They're asking for simple maintenance of their living standards," Burrow said of the engineers.

"It's about time Qantas realized the fuel pressures, the price pressures overall cut both ways. They can hedge their price pressures, working families can't and all we're asking for is a real wage increase," she said.

The strike comes Qantas announced Wednesday it faces a 2 billion Australian dollar (US$1.9 billion) increase in its fuel bill in the 2008-2009 financial year. The airline will retire aircraft, close some routes and shed jobs in an effort to control costs.