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Qantas chairman Leigh Clifford has stood firmly behind his embattled chief executive Alan Joyce over his high-stakes strategy of slashing 5000 jobs, in the midst of stiff opposition from powerful unions and the Abbott government dashing the airline's hopes for financial assistance.
His comments came as the airline suffered another setback late on Friday, with collision of two Qantas jets on the ground at Los Angeles airport.
A day after Mr Joyce outlined plans to axe jobs, cut routes and cancel orders for new planes, Mr Clifford said in a Fairfax Media editorial that the overhaul would accelerate the ''transformation of Qantas under Alan Joyce's leadership with the full support of the Qantas board''.
''Hard decisions have been needed to reduce Qantas' cost base and improve productivity relative to its major competitors. More hard decisions will be needed in future,'' he wrote.
But union heavyweights left a meeting with Qantas management on Friday little wiser and vowing to ''fight for every job'', indicating Mr Joyce will face an uphill battle in convincing them to agree to a wages freeze.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has also firmed his opposition to handing Qantas a taxpayer-backed bailout in the form of access to cheaper loans.
Qantas executives made clear to union officials at the meeting that they wanted to apply wage freezes to any previous agreement and any that would soon be up for agreement.
After the meeting with Qantas management, Transport Workers Union national secretary Tony Sheldon said the Qantas board and management did not have a strategy for the future.
''Quite clearly the board has to change strategy and it has to have an executive team to have the capacity to do that,'' he said in another swipe at Mr Joyce's leadership.
He described the mood in the meeting as ''angry and disappointed that the company has not clearly thought through what the ramifications are of these strategies … and don't have a growth strategy for the future''.
Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Dave Oliver said Qantas had refused to negotiate the number of jobs cut or the proposed salaries freeze.
''Quite frankly that meeting has left us with more questions now than what we had when we went in there,'' he said. ''We are not suggesting strike action at this stage, but what we are saying is that we will be fighting for every job.''
Costly collision in Los Angeles
The collision in Los Angeles topped a dramatic week for the airline. No one was injured but flights to Melbourne and Brisbane had to be cancelled. A spokesperson for the embattled airline apologised for any inconvenience to passengers via Twitter.
"The wing tips of two Qantas aircraft, an A380 and B747, came into contact at approximately 9pm (local) while being towed out of the hangar in Los Angeles," the Qantas spokesperson said. "No passengers were on board.
"Both aircraft have been assessed by engineers and as a result the 27 February QF94 (LAX-MEL) and QF16 (LAX-BNE) services have been delayed overnight. Customers will be provided with hotel rooms overnight and will be accommodated on the next available services."
The story Qantas chairman Leigh Clifford backs CEO Alan Joyce as unions gear up for fight first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.