Australian carrier Jetstar is facing a widening industrial relations battle as ground crew step up their long-running dispute with the airline. It comes as the majority of Jetstar’s 800 pilots took strike action over the weekend, causing nearly 100 flights to be cancelled and throwing the travel plans of thousands into turmoil.
The pilots and their union, the Australian Federation of Air Pilots (AFAP) has said it does not intend to take any action between 20 December 2019 and 3 January 2020. This provides some comfort for travellers.
The TWU makes no promises
But the Transport Workers Union (TWU) is making no such promises. The powerful union has over 90,000 members and represents many Jetstar baggage handlers and ramp employees. The TWO has had a long-running dispute with Jetstar over better pay, guaranteed hours and improved conditions. Emboldened by the decision of the AFAP to strike, the TWU is commencing a rolling series of strikes of their own.
Jetstar only employs about 375 ground crew in Australia. The majority of the ground crew wearing Jetstar uniforms are employed by third parties and contractors.
TWU National Secretary, Michael Kaine, was reported today in The Australian as saying;
“The workers will decide on Thursday (December 19, 2019) whether there will be further stoppages and when those stoppages will be.
“It’s serious enough to take industrial action at any time of the year. But if we had taken action in early January, they would have said we were disrupting New Year’s travellers. If we had taken action later, they would have said Australia Day then Valentine’s Day then Easter was being disrupted.
“I know they workers want to get their message across. They don’t want to necessarily agitate the general public. It will be in their hands when the next stoppage will occur, but at the moment given the strength of feeling on the ground, there will be further stoppages. It is just a question of when.”
Jetstar management not budging
As with their dispute with their pilots, Jetstar is reluctant to accede to the TWU’s demands. The CEO of Jetstar, Gareth Evans, said the demands were unsustainable. Of course, what’s right and what’s wrong in these disputes is entirely in the eye of the beholder. The merits of various arguments are also clouded by misinformation, allegations, claims and counterclaims.
In a statement provided to Simple Flying, Gareth Evans said;
“The TWU’s claims equate to a 12 per cent increase in costs for Jetstar ground crew who earn around $70,000 per year on a part-time basis and around $90,000 per year on a full-time basis. This is despite the same union agreeing to a three per cent wages deal in other parts of the Qantas Group.
“There’s no doubt that industrial action is expensive and frustrating, but we have to hold the line on costs or it threatens the long term sustainability of our business. We apologise to the customers whose plans have been caught up in what the unions are doing.”
Jetstar has announced that it is cutting 10% of its flights across January 2020 to avoid disrupting passengers at short notice. January is Jetstar’s busiest month of the year and the airline hopes that by getting on the front foot, disruptions will be minimised.
The airline has contingency plans in place, involving the use of third party workers to ensure bags are loaded and ground services are fully staffed. The airline notes the ongoing industrial action will see it lose between USD$14 million and USD$17 million in revenue this financial year.
Jetstar is contacting passengers who are directly affected. They will be offered alternatives such as rebooking onto other Jetstar services, rebooking onto Qantas services or a full refunds