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Qantas chief now Australian 'public enemy number-one'

AUSTRALIA: Irish-born Qantas boss Alan Joyce has defied death threats and alienated the public and powerful alike with a shock grounding of the Qantas fleet that has won him few friends in Australia.

Monday 31 October 2011, 03:43PM

Joyce, who took over as chief executive of the "Flying Kangaroo" in 2008 with a brief to turn around its floundering international business, emerged the victor in an ugly union battle over an Asia-focused restructure.

His high-stakes gamble to shut down the carrier paid off when the government stepped in, and a midnight tribunal ordered an end to months of rolling strikes that Joyce had warned would lead to a "death by a thousand cuts".

But even as the jets returned to the skies, Joyce has been accused of breaching travellers' trust, contempt towards his 35,000-strong workforce and wreaking irreparable harm on a much-loved national brand.

"This grounding has been a nightmare for everyone. A very slow trip to Ireland for Alan Joyce would be a good idea -- one way," one travel agent who requested anonymity told AFP.

While much of the criticism has centred on Joyce's restructuring plans and his Aus$5.1 million (US$5.4 million) salary, there has also been a racial tinge in references to his Dublin origins.

Unions declared him a "Hibernian hydra" as they condemned his behaviour, saying it was a stunt that was "spine-chilling in its callousness".

"A day after he pockets a 71 percent pay rise Alan Joyce embarked on the most wilfully shocking economic vandalism I've seen," said the Transport Workers' Union's Peter Biagini.

"This is a man who is content to see tens of thousands of families go to the wall, and thousands of small businesses go under in his maniacal pursuit of outsourcing and offshoring Aussie jobs."

Qantas revealed early this month that Joyce, who has in the past complained about lampooning of his Irish accent in the Australian media, had received death threats as the industrial tensions escalated.

"It's coming soon Paddy. You can't even see it," one letter read, according to the Daily Telegraph newspaper. "The unions will fight you... Qantas is our airline, started and staffed by Australians, not foreign filth like you,"

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The grounding was the most drastic step to date in 45-year-old Joyce's campaign against the unions, who reject Qantas's plans to set up two new Asian airlines and axe 1,000 jobs.

It was also the boldest move in the career of the naturalised Australian, who was born to a humble Dublin household and started out in the industry with Ireland's national carrier, Aer Lingus.

He moved to Australia 15 years ago to join the now-defunct Ansett airline, then joined Qantas in 2000 where he was appointed chief executive of its low-cost arm Jetstar Airways in 2003.

His successful reign at Jetstar, where he jostled with other budget airlines in the increasingly competitive Asian region, helped form his uncompromising views on lowering costs.

Joyce -- who has become the face of the airline crisis with frequent media appearances -- has maintained that the restructuring is vital to ensure Qantas survives, with regional rivals already operating off a far lower cost base.

But Prime Minister Julia Gillard repeatedly labelled the grounding "extreme" and other ministers complained the decision was a "bolt out of the blue" that could seriously damage the airline's reputation.

It was a sentiment echoed in airports around the world, with many vowing never to fly Qantas again and slamming Joyce, while millions of Australians vented their anger online, declaring him public enemy number one.

"Paging Alan Joyce. Just go. Now," tweeted actor Rhys Muldoon, with others urging him not to "let the cabin door hit you on the way out" and suggesting, in stewardess-style, that the exits were "here and here".

Joyce is a private figure but earlier this year he revealed he had surgery for prostate cancer and used the experience to raise awareness of the disease, with the airline launching an on-board campaign reminding passengers to get regular checks.




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