Union doubts over poison pen letter to Qantas CEO

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A bitter industrial dispute at Australia's national airline, Qantas, reached new depths yesterday over responsibility for a series of apparent violent threats and acts of intimidation against senior management. Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce, an Irishman who played a key role in devising Aer Lingus's low-cost strategy, sent an email to his 35,000 employees detailing bullying and intimidation in the latest twist in a bitter battle over pay and conditions.

"Qantas workers who are union members have been subject to violence against their property after they declined to take strike action," he said in the email.

"Members of Qantas management who stepped in to support our business have received menacing correspondence to their homes. These acts are abhorrent and illegal."

Sources said senior staff had their car windows smashed and homes damaged for refusing to strike in a dispute at the airline, once held in such esteem that it was regarded as unpatriotic to fly with any other carrier.

A threat against Mr Joyce himself, not mentioned in the message to staff, raised the temperature after it was first revealed in The Telegraph in Sydney.

In a typed letter delivered to his home, the chief executive was told: "It's coming soon Paddy. You can't even see it! The Unions will fight you... Qantas is our airline, started and staffed by Australians, not foreign filth like you. All your evil plans... will come back to you very swiftly and kick you (sic) Irish FOREIGN ARSE out of the country."

Other handwritten letters sent to management, who went to work during recent strike action, described them as "scabs" and intimated there would be retribution against their families if they continued to break ranks with strikers. Qantas said it would step up security for strike breakers in the future.

The unions insist they have had no role in death threats or other acts of intimidation. And at least one prominent trade unionist suggested the airline's claims had more to do with public-relations spin than facts.

"We wouldn't put it past the airlines to have fabricated this to try and draw on some public sympathy," Steve Purvinas, the head of the Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association, said. "The whole episode looks a bit fishy to me."

Mr Joyce has been on collision course with the unions since taking up his new job in 2008. Stalled negotiations on a pay claim and better conditions have prompted industrial action.