SYDNEY — Australia's Prime Minister Bob Hawke has upped the stakes in the three-week-old domestic pilots dispute by putting his office on the line. He promised that air services would be restored by Oct. 1 to 50 percent of normal capacity.
``If I can't protect Australia against a small group who would destroy the Australian wage system and destroy the economy, then I wouldn't deserve to be prime minister,'' Mr. Hawke said Sept. 14 in a television interview.
Tourism is Australia's No. 1 export. The industry - hotels, travel agencies, restaurants, and taxis - has lost $365 million to date. About 15,000 workers have been laid off so far, says the Australian Tourism Industry Association.
If the 1,645 members of the pilots union won't give up their bid for a 30 percent wage hike, Hawke vowed to restore the airline system without them.
Already, Australian Air Force planes, international airlines, and charter aircraft from overseas (including two jets from America West) are providing minimal service. In addition, the airlines are hiring new pilots from overseas.
Hawke has agreed to a compensation package that could cost $11 million to $15 million for the airlines for losses incurred while keeping idle airline workers (baggage handlers, flight attendants) on the payroll.