Home Australian News tensions rise as pilots mull further industrial action

tensions rise as pilots mull further industrial action

tensions rise as pilots mull further industrial action

Striking Qantas pilots in Western Australia have accused the company’s management of spreading misinformation, with Australian Federation of Airline Pilots (AFAP) members today considering further industrial action on top of the six-day strike that is set to end at midnight on Tuesday.

The strike is now affecting east coast schedules and Qantas B737 crewing, pilots told Crikey. They said it is also “driving a bigger wedge” between management and pilots as some pilots on the east coast are effectively being forced to try to help break the strike (Qantas has moved at least three B737s and several B717s to Perth) or risk their jobs or seniority under bargaining agreements. 

The strike is now in the hands of the Fair Work Commission (FWC) after Qantas applied for a determination of intractable bargaining (IB) after negotiations between the two sides ended late last year. An initial determination on IB, a new process, may not be given until at least next month, a period in which strike action may continue. Following a determination of IB there would be an arbitration process by the FWC of up to 12 months — during which no industrial action can be taken — and at the end of this the FWC would make a determination on the enterprise bargaining agreement.

While AFAP said Qantas “took everything off the table” and walked away from negotiations, Qantas disagreed.

QantasLink’s newly appointed CEO Rachel Yangoyan said in an email, seen by Crikey, to pilots on Tuesday:

AFAP’s suggestion that we walked away from the negotiating table is not reasonable given we’ve reached in principle agreement with them on the last two agreements. Unfortunately, the unions are now seeking additional items on top of our revised offer voted down last year. These are benefits that would add extra cost to the agreement, something we cannot agree to.

Pilots and union reps have made it clear that any extended process with the FWC would likely see scores of them leave the company if a new deal did not eventuate soon, as there are much better offers from American, Middle Eastern and Asian airlines in the market. This is based on a show of hands at last week’s AFAP members meeting attended by more than 100 people. Pilots estimate about 80% said they would look elsewhere.

Qantas pilots operating out of Perth run both fly-in-fly-out operations for mining companies as well as passenger services around the state and into the Northern Territory (though the intention is to expand interstate services). 

AFAP representative Chris Aikens said that claims by management that pilots only worked three days a week were untrue.

“While it was true that Tuesday-Thursday was the busiest part of the week due to mining rosters, Network Aviation (NA) and QantasLink in Western Australia is a seven-day-a-week operation,” Aikens told Crikey. “Under current rosters, pilots are available five to six days a week. If Qantas don’t think that the pilots are flying enough hours that is the airline’s problem, not the pilots’.”

NA chief operating officer Trevor Worgan claimed there was a “disconnection between the union and its members”, which Aikens also dismissed.

Pilots have been inundated with messages from senior members of Qantas management including Worgan, Yangoyan and NA chief pilot Evan Bartlett (who is likely to be the subject of a no-confidence vote next week).

Aikens said the dispute has seen some pilots on Qantas’ “mainline” red-tail jets move from the primary mainline union, the Australian and International Pilots Associations (which is basically an arm of the company), to AFAP, as Qantas began negotiations for both short- and long-haul pilots.

In the note to pilots on Tuesday, seen by Crikey, Yangoyan said she would be in Perth from Wednesday night and available to meet. But Aikens said he had not heard from her.

One pilot noted that Barlett did not have a current pilot’s licence so might not fully comprehend the conditions on the ground, including “mouldy catering, lack of pushback vehicles and dangerous weather conditions unsuitable for cadet pilots”.

The strike has also raised issues over how the airline deals with the mental health of its crews, something that is also an issue around the globe.

“An awful lot of pilots are struggling in the mental health area,” one NA pilot told Crikey. This was confirmed by other pilots in the Qantas group. 

“Qantas has no regard for the mental health or the welfare of the pilot group,” the pilot said.  

“We haven’t had a pay rise for almost five years and no-one takes the decision [lightly] to take a week off with no pay to strike [and] this means many can’t pay their mortgages.”

Qantas CEO Vanessa Hudson has previously said she is trying to improve the “fractured relationship” with unions, bringing the company’s industrial relations under its revamped human resources division — headed by “chief people officer” Catherine Walsh. But insiders believe Hudson does not want to be seen as too acquiescent to industrial action. To this end, she has also dispatched Qantas IR chief Nathan Safe, a former union boss. Crikey asked Qantas about Hudson’s lack of visibility but the airline did not get back in time for publication. 

One pilot said Hudson should be “front and centre” as tensions continue to rise. 

“It’s affecting her whole business and she is nowhere to be seen,” he said.

Will you fly with Qantas while WA pilots are striking? Let us know your thoughts by writing to letters@crikey.com.au. Please include your full name to be considered for publication. We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.


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