Air New Zealand and the Howard Government must accept responsibility for the Ansett debacle and up to $400 million in employee entitlements, the ACTU said today.

Commenting after Ansett was placed in the hands of an Administrator, ACTU Secretary Greg Combet said unions would pursue Air New Zealand and the Howard Government for every dollar owing to Ansett employees.

“This is one of the worst failures in Australian corporate history. It not only affects 17,0000 direct Ansett employees and their families, but tens of thousands of other people and businesses. It will have a dramatic economic impact,” said Mr Combet.

“It is clear that Air New Zealand deserve condemnation for their mismanagement of Ansett. The Administrator and corporate regulators should leave no stone unturned to establish if there have been breaches of the law. Unions are taking legal advice.

“Air New Zealand’s ineptitude was graphically demonstrated yesterday when it issued farcical and contradictory propositions in the space of two hours, followed by the appointment of the Administrator. This is no way to treat employees who have been loyal to Ansett over many years,” said Mr Combet.

“It is also clear that the incompetence of the Howard Government, and specifically Transport Minister Anderson, has contributed to this collapse. The Government was regularly briefed about Ansett’s troubles over recent months, yet did nothing. The Government refused support for a rescue bid by Singapore Airlines several months ago, and no explanation has been provided. This bid could have saved Ansett and thousands of jobs.

“Ansett employees and unions have a right to be furious. The top priority is quickly becoming the protection of employee entitlements. Unions estimate that accrued entitlements amount to around $400 million and that under the Howard Government’s entitlement scheme Ansett employees would get only 10% of what they are owed,” said Mr Combet.

Unions are planning public rallies in support of Ansett employees at 12.30pm tomorrow (Friday, September 14) in Sydney (Martin Place), Melbourne (State Library Lawn, cnr Latrobe and Swanston Sts) and Brisbane (King George Square, city).