Reading the massive Qantas wraparound ads in the papers yesterday, you could be excused for thinking Qantas was set to employ 11 year old junior lifeguards as cabin crew.
The spin-heavy ad campaign had the tagline “There’s a new spirit”, and was a backdrop to the announcement that Qantas would restructure itself by cutting 1,000 of its 35,000 staff, while also peparing to set up a new premium service in Asia.
Qantas has long relied on the feelgood factor in its marketing. You know that fantastic feeling when you touch down at an Australian airport after a trip overseas? Qantas has successfully bottled and sold that emotion. It’s our country. Our airline. You bloody beauty. Last night, however, many people voiced concerns that our airline was slipping away. And boy, did Qantas CEO Alan Joyce come out swinging in its defence.
Joyce doesn’t always answer hard questions directly, but today, he delivered the kind of straight talk Australians naturally respect, and a reminder, no less, that our national character owes much to waves of Irish immigration. Yesterday’s gooey spin was gone. Today it was time for was Plan B. Attack!
What really worked Joyce up at this afternoon’s hastily-scheduled press conference was what he called “false accusations” by various industrial groups against Qantas. These “false accusations” presumably included:
- questions over safety standards raised by the Australian and International Pilots Association and others
- claims by the ACTU that Qantas could hardly call itself an Australian airline anymore, and;
- claims by Barry Jackson, of the AIPA, that the 1,000 job cuts would likely blow out to 5,000.
Joyce saved the best of his anger for a journalist who dared ask why Qantas needs to cut from the international division, which lost $200 million last year, when the company made an overall profit of $500 million.
“Five hundred million profit is very small compared to the $2.5 billion we spend each year on new aircraft,” he said.
“We’ve got plenty of time to fix it but this great brand will disappear if we keep on kicking the can down the street.”
The word “brand” is at the heart of today’s debate. For workers and travellers, Qantas has always been more than a brand. It is a national icon, an overused word these days but a word which has always fit in regard to Qantas.
Ask any Qantas worker and they’ll tell you that “Qantas families” were special. They were part of something bigger than themselves. Most of them will also now tell you that Joyce has eroded that culture, with his focus on the bottom line.
Press a little further and you’ll find Qantas workers who claim to have been laid off, then rehired at significantly less than their old wages. A new spirit indeed.
Of course, Joyce has a business to run. His expansionist dreams appear a perfectly valid way of investing in a national brand. He is cutting less than three per cent of his workforce.
But if you could paraphrase the outrage from the unions and others today, it’d be along the lines of “what good is a brand if it’s just logos and paint on the side of a plane, not a culture?”
There are other questions well worth asking today, not least regarding Qantas’ bogan little brother JetStar, and the degree to which yesterday’s cuts pave the way for more investment in that carrier.
The video below, uploaded by a user called “qantaspilots”, asks a fair few interesting questions too.
Read all about it
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