Jetstar faces new strike action by ground workers

February 14, 2020
Jetstar strikes
Photo: Jetstar

Thousands of Jetstar passengers face another wave of industrial action next week as the airline struggles to resolve a pay dispute with the Transport Workers’ Union.

The TWU has told the company it will take protected industrial action on Wednesday, February 19 that includes rolling two-hour work stoppages by baggage handlers and ground staff over 24 hours.

More than 250 workers will be involved in the action at Sydney, Melbourne, Avalon, Brisbane, Cairns and Adelaide airports.

READ: Qantas warns union it will seek outside pilots to launch Sunrise

Responding to the threat Friday, Jetstar chief executive Gareth Evans vowed to do everything possible to get customers on their way with minimum disruption.

Evans said the airline was still working out what the impact would be on up to 400 daily flights but it had strong contingencies in place.

He said it was looking to inform customers on Monday and was already offering those traveling Wednesday the option of a full refund.

Those passengers forced to overnight out of their home port would be given accommodation and meal vouchers.

“I think there will be some cancelations but we’re working through that at the moment and we’re working with our partner Qantas, as we did when the action was taken in December, to try and minimize that disruption and those delays as much as possible,” he said.

The strike action comes as the airline is moving to bypass the union and put a proposed package directly to workers, probably sometime in the next week.

READ: Jetstar presses for vote on ground handler pay dispute.

The industrial action comes as Australia’s tourism industry is reeling from the combined impact of the bush fire crises and the coronavirus threat.

“The TWU’s decision to disrupt air travel at a time when local tourism and the economy is hurting is unforgivable,’’ Evans said.

“It’s another example of how out of touch this union is.”

Jetstar has put a package to the TWU that includes a 3 percent annual pay increase, a year’s worth of back pay for each employee as well as a range of other benefits related to rosters.

“The deal delivers annual wage increases well above private-sector wage growth and more than what most companies are offering,’’ Evans said.

“It also ensures we can keep offering the low fares our customers expect.

“The union keeps ignoring the fact that no part of Jetstar or the Qantas Group will do a wage deal more than three percent. “

However, the TWU said the company was trying to force workers to accept an agreement that was “even worse than the current agreement they’re on”.

TWU national secretary Michael Kaine accused Jetstar of shutting down negotiations and imposing an industrial dictatorship that threatened workers’ back pay if they did not accept its terms.

He said the timing of the industrial action had been determined by the company’s actions.

“This is a company that has engaged for many years now in the systematic underemployment of its workforce deliberately to keep them quiet,” he said. “Obviously in the last few days there’s been an extension of that tactic.”

Jetstar is also talking to its pilots about a new pay deal and has warned it may have to sell some widebody aircraft if an agreement is not reached.

A spokesman confirmed it was testing the market to get valuations for the potential sale of three Boeing 787-8 aircraft but said a decision had yet to be made.

The airline is due to make a decision about the planes, the sale of which would see pilot job losses and demotions, by the end of March.

Management was due to meet with the Australian Federation of Air Pilots next Tuesday, Evans said.

The difficulties at Jetstar come as Qantas International chief executive Tino La Spina warned on Thursday that the group will seek outside pilots to launch its ambitious Project Sunrise on ultra-long-haul routes unless the Australian and International Pilots Association agreed to a deal on the table.