It is a cynicism commonly expressed that some safety issues
raised by unions are more about bargaining tactics or power plays
than genuine safety concerns. Of course, one has to be careful
about alleging such a lack of sincerity, because safety is a
serious issue and your words may come back to haunt you should the
allegedly "artificial" risk come to pass.
However, in a recent case involving Qantas, a Federal Court
judge held just this. Six maintenance engineers working for
Sunstate Airlines (QLD) found defects with aircraft doors. This had
the effect of grounding the planes, and occurred immediately after
developments (about which the union was not happy) in the course of
bargaining for a new enterprise agreement. The alleged safety
issues were found to be groundless by the Office of Transport
Security and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. The engineers
Justice Logan in the Federal Court dismissed the engineers'
claims to have been unfairly treated, because while maintenance
engineers were actively encouraged by Qantas to report faults,
"it is subversive of such a [safety] culture and
antithetical to the public interest for what are, in reality,
industrial actions to be cloaked as aviation safety
Justice Logan acknowledged that the engineers might have acted
due to being "sorely tested" in negotiations, but found
that their actions were not those of "men faithful to
their trade responsibilities".
As noted above, one needs to think very carefully before taking
a stance such as Qantas did, but this case illustrates that when
the circumstances are right, taking an assertive stance about false
safety issues may receive support where it matters.
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