Joyce’s ‘disappointment’ reasons over Jetstar ‘toughen up princesses’ letter are spot on

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce was spot on with why he was “disappointed” about a Jetstar line pilot’s e-mail to colleagues, and obtained by a Senator, to “Toughen up princess!” because “You aren’t fatigued, you are tired and can’t be bothered going to work.”

Joyce got past the sensationalist elements to reach the crux of the pilot’s letter: fatigue. To recap, the pilot acknowledges he does not “operate to my normal standard” on back of the clock flying, but says he is not fatigued.

Joyce told the Parliament Inquiry: ”There’s plenty of processes and procedures within the framework for these [maters] to be reported. It could have been reported to CASA…it could have been reported into Jetstar’s safety, it could have been reported into the whistleblower process that we have with the Qantas Group.We have so many different mechanisms that these claims can be investigated…I’m very disappointed these things are being built up like this. It’s not in the interest of safety that that’s occurring.”

As Joyce acknowledges, the pilot raises serious safety and fatigue concerns, although the pilot does not see them as such; his letter to his reportedly 20 fellow pilots at Perth admonished them of the realities of shift work in the industry. Either one of the pilots or someone who was forwarded the message saw the safety implications in the letter and ultimately gave the e-mail to a Senator.

Bypassing reporting opportunities in favour of bringing the letter to the pilot introduces a cultural debate over if the Qantas Group has made its pilots feel comfortable reporting safety matters, an issue Joyce and Jetstar chief executive Bruce Buchannan were at pains to say does not exist. Joyce rightfully points out anonymous reporting opportunities exist both through the airline’s whistleblower programme as well as CASA.

Those safety concerns were lost on Buchannan by the time Jetstar organised an “urgent” doorstop interview with him at Qantas headquarters in Sydney.

“We get quite disappointed when this process gets hijacked for political means, or for a union agenda,” Buchannan opened with. However, the issue of fatigue raised in the pilot’s letter was neither a political or union agenda. The pilot was raising, although he failed to admit, fatigue on back of the clock operations. (Buchannan’s praxis is concerning if you believe he is tipped to replace Joyce.)

Buchannan also defended Qantas Group management being unaware of the pilot’s letter prior to the Inquiry where Buchannan coldly told the Senators, “I have never seen this e-mail.” There are 4-5 million internal e-mails sent a month, Buchannan said, “So for us to be aware of every email that’s sent between various members of the workforce would be quite a feat.”

Nobody asked for management to be aware of 4-5 million monthly e-mails. But management should be aware of safety implications in an e-mail in wide enough circulation to reach a Senator before anyone at the Qantas Group empowered to act on safety matters either as a response to the letter or proactively from monitoring back of the clock operations.

Buchannan’s lost focus on safety was not rectified by the Sydney media who during Q&A raised matters including “It would be fair to say though that some girls or women could find, say, toughen up princess, offensive,” as well as “Are you worried that this – these comments that have come out today will damage or could damage the long-term future of Jetstar, of the brand and of how people see it?”

Although Joyce managed the safety aspect once the letter was read, he objected to it being read in the first place.

“There is the potential here for accusations and material to be accumulated against the airline,” he said, later adding: ”There is misleading information out there and that misleading information is being used to make accusations and claims about the organisation of Jetstar and it’s clearly wrong from what we’ve seen. What worries me is unless we go through the proper due diligence process, the proper investigation of all of these [reports], they could be in the same category.”

Besides due diligence, PR was also a factor, Joyce inferred: “It can be hard for management here to be given notes on the spur of the moment.”

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