Nina Mistilis

Qantas is facing a further drawn-out battle with the unions, and that may cause yet more long-lasting damage to its brand. The Qantas dispute is settling in for the long haul, now that it has been taken into binding arbitration – a move that could take months to resolve.

This confrontation with the unions has been building for years and seem and has now culminated in arbitration. All of this has taken place in full view of the travelling public. Qantas – in going to arbitration – has won what it was seeking – which is a stay on industrial action – but in the long term it seems to have lost the war.

I believe it has alienated passengers, the industry and the government, and that’s not a good position to be in. The Qantas brand is tarnished.

Negotiations between the airline and the Transport Workers Union, the Australian and International Pilots Association and the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers’ Association collapsed just before a deadline set by Fair Work Australia (FWA).

I believe the longer this dispute rumbles on, the more the Qantas brand image will be badly impacted.

That’s a global perception, because passengers all over the world who want to get to Australia for a holiday, or back home for work, are wondering if it is safe to book a Qantas plane, or whether it will be cancelled again. Many are saying they will never trust Qantas again, particularly in business class, because business wants reliability above everything else. Certainly, in the immediate future, the brand is tainted and they’re really behind the eight ball.

I don’t see how they’re going to catch up easily. Even if the arbitration settles on the side of Qantas, it may still hurt Qantas in the medium to long term, although I think it’s really hard to say what the long term damage will be. It partly depends on how events unfold. If it is solved quickly, which seems very unlikely, then the brand will be restored. But if it continues, and if there’s a perception – as the unions are saying – that service will drop due to the “asianisation” of the airline, then the brand will be completely damaged. Will that mean that less passengers book on Qantas? I don’t know the answer to that. Time will tell.

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce yesterday said while his preferred option had been to resolve the dispute through negotiation, it was now time to let FWA bring the matter to a close.

But it is reliability is an important factor in terms of the branding of an airline. When it comes to the crunch, we need to get to the destination on a certain date and we cannot afford to be stranded at home, or somewhere in Australia, or abroad. So when it comes to the choice, will we choose Qantas or will we choose another airline?

Nina Mistilis is a senior lecturer in Tourism at the Australian School of Business.