Monday, March 19, 2007

Qantas F/A fired for taking nuts from plane

I hope there is more to this story than what is being reported in the press. If not, shame on Qantas. A news story in the Sydney Morning Herald reports that the Australian carrier has "sacked" one of its senior flight attendants, Philip Woodward-Brown, for allegedly taking chocolate-covered macadamia nuts from a plane. Here's an excerpt from that article:

In a case set to begin before the Australian Industrial Relations Commission today, Qantas will defend claims of unfair dismissal by Mr Woodward-Brown, who worked for the airline for 32 years before his career was abruptly terminated last August.

Mr Woodward-Brown was searched by Qantas security officials as he clocked off in Tokyo, after flying in from Melbourne. They found 11 chocolates in his bag and five in his pockets. He was also carrying two individually wrapped biscuits.

The 57-year-old flight attendant was stood down while a three-month investigation took place. He was then sacked, in keeping with Qantas's policy of "zero tolerance" to theft.

Mr Woodward-Brown will be represented by his union, the Flight Attendants Association of Australia, in the coming arbitration. It is believed his lawyers will argue the chocolates and biscuits were "essential tools of trade". They will say it is usual for flight attendants to carry items like chocolates, sugar sachets and coffee stirrers to hand out to passengers. Just as an office worker might take home pens or paper from their job, so Mr Woodward-Brown inadvertently brought some items off the plane.
This is not the first time we've heard such tales, of course, and stories of this nature are hardly limited to Qantas. I have heard of flight attendants in the U.S. being "nabbed" with everything from sugar packets to bottled water that they have taken with them when they left a flight -- sometimes on purpose, but many times inadvertently.

No one would support any crew intentionally taking anything of value from an aircraft. And of course there is some validity to the argument that if every flight attendant took a Coke or a bottle of water from every flight, it would cost the airline a fortune.

But sometimes, this policing of crew goes to extreme lengths. I have had flight attendants tell me that they are "terrified" that one day they will be caught with a forgotten packet of pretzels in their apron pocket and be disciplined as a result.

I've also heard stories of flight attendants taking bottled water aboard flights they are working -- for their own consumption -- and having to make sure that the brand they select to take along for themselves is different than the brand that is catered, lest they be accused of stealing. Perhaps if the carriers were more generous in supplying water and meals to their cabin crews this entire problem would be avoided.

In regard to the Qantas incident described in the Sydney Morning Herald, the secretary of the flight attendants' union, Michael Mijatov, said Qantas had been over zealous with discipline for the past four years, since it put in place non-cabin-crew ground managers to keep crew in line.
"They are now applying much more scrutiny to the crew than before," Mr Mijatov said.

"We feel the quality of decision making by Qantas managers in relation to the disciplinary processes has not been of a sufficiently high order."

The president of the union, Steven Reid, said Mr Woodward-Brown's sacking was "most uncharitable". "They haven't established an act of theft under any reasonable test of law. There is no indication there was ever any intent to steal anything."
That is just the point, isn't it? Sounds like a case of 'guilty until proven innocent' -- or making an example of someone in order to strike fear in the rank and file. In either case, it's not a very classy management style.