Jetstar Christmas disruptions unlikely despite union votes to strike

December 06, 2019
Jetstar strike
Jetstar could face Christmas strike action. Photo: Steve Creedy.

Australian budget carrier Jetstar will likely escape disruptions over the busy Christmas period despite a vote by pilots and ground workers in favor of strike action.

The more serious of the two threats comes from the pilots because of the difficulty of replacing them if they had decided to exercise the option over the holidays to take protected industrial action.

Union pilots accounting for about 80 percent of the airline’s flight crew will start four-hour work stoppages on Jetstar’s narrow-body aircraft, used mostly on domestic routes, from 5 am to 9 am on Saturday December 14 and Sunday December 15.

International pilots flying Jetstar’s Boeing 787 Dreamliners will not work between 2.30 pm and 6.30 pm Saturday or between 9.30 am and 1.30 pm Sunday.

However, the Australian Federation of Air Pilots said in a statement that it would ensure action would not be taken over the Christmas period.

This was despite the fact that 90 percent of members voted in favor of the action.

“The decision to embark on protected industrial action has not been made lightly,” AFAP executive director Simon Lutton said.

“Jetstar pilots and the AFAP ensure that industrial action will not be taken over Christmas to New Year to protect this holiday period for the traveling public.

“We are hoping to resume discussions with the company to reach an agreement so that no further action needs to be taken after this period.”

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The union asked members to endorse work stoppages of up to 24 hours as well as work-to-rule bans ranging from deciding not to work overtime to refusing to follow standard fuel-saving procedures.

It said previously it had been negotiating with the company for almost 12 months but management remained unwilling to shift on any of the pilot’s pay and conditions claims, such as rostering.

The pilots are also upset they are the lowest-paid jet flight crews employed by Australia’s four airlines and Lutton said they were tired of not being valued as highly as their peers at other carriers.

“Jetstar pilots simply want to be valued fairly in line with their peers at other airlines,” Lutton said last month.

Jetstar chief executive Gareth Evans had earlier vowed vowed to do everything possible to protect the travel plans of customers over Christmas.

“The AFAP is demanding the equivalent of a 15 percent pay increase in the first year,” he said

“The union’s demands would put significant pressure on the low fares our customers rely on and force us to review our investment in new aircraft, new technology and new destinations.

“Our captains earn on average over $A300,000 a year and we are offering a three percent annual increase.

“This is 40 percent above Australia’s annual wage growth and consistent with our position across the Qantas and Jetstar Groups.

“We remain committed to reaching a new agreement to support the great work our pilots do every day, but not any cost. “

In a related development, Jetstar baggage handlers and ground crew voted overwhelmingly in favor of taking protected industrial action after the company rejected basic demands, including 30 guaranteed hours of work per week and a 4 percent annual wage increase.

The ground crew are also seeking more rest breaks, a guaranteed 12-hour break between shifts and commitment to Jetstar employees rather than untrained casual staff,

The Transport Workers’ Union said the 94 percent vote for industrial action covered  250 workers in Sydney, Melbourne, Avalon, Brisbane, Cairns and Adelaide.

The union also cited concerns about security and safety at the airline and warned the Federal Government’s announcement of extra police at airports would not address security concerns.

“Jetstar forces its workers on to part-time hours, some are guaranteed no more than 20 hours a week.,’’ said TWU national secretary Michael Kaine.

“The rates are low and families are struggling.

“Jetstar workers took a pay freeze in recent years and they expected the company to treat them fairly now they are earning bumper profits.”

Kaine said it was disappointing Jetstar had rejected the vast majority of the workers’ demands outright.

But the airline said it was surprised the TWU pursued a protected action ballot given it only provided a full list of claims two weeks before taking the step.

“It’s important to understand less than half our total ground crew voted to take action,’’ Jetstar boss Evans said.

“We have also offered this work group a 3 percent annual wage increase.

The impact of any potential industrial action by members of the TWU is likely to be minimal as we have strong contingency plans in place.”