Cabin crew employed by Virgin Australia could launch industrial action against the airline in an attempt to secure revised enterprise agreements offering improved pay, job security and safer rostering conditions.
Cabin crew members affiliated with the Transport Workers Union (TWU) are expected to apply for a protected action ballot with the Fair Work Commission.
The vote on TWU’s proposed strike action comes just three weeks after Virgin Australia’s airport ground crews applied for and won approval for a protected action ballot.
Cabin crew union representatives claim that poor work conditions consisting of long shifts, missed breaks, and unrealistic turnaround times, are causing its members “crippling” levels of fatigue both on and off the job.
The Union also claims that its members are being paid a “poverty” income, which is being worsened by a series of pay freezes and cuts. Allegedly, according to the TWU’s claims, several flight attendants have been forced to resort to additional side jobs to cover their basic living costs.
TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine has accused Virgin’s parent company, Bain Capital, of turning its back on a previous commitment to correct “rock-bottom” pay levels and enhance a work-life balance. This, says the union, is despite the airline’s loyal crew having “worked hard to rebuild the airline and seen it back into profit”.
Speaking to the media, Mr Kaine added: “Pay and conditions are inextricably linked to aviation workers’ ability to ensure the safety of passengers and crew. Protected industrial action is always a last resort, but our members know there are no second chances at 30,000 feet.”
Mr Kaine went on to describe how the impacts of Virgin’s dire employment conditions had manifested themselves.
“Our cabin crew, ground crew, and pilot members have all reported fears of mistakes being made due to their unsustainable working conditions, made worse by high turnover, fatigue-related absenteeism, and juggling second or third jobs,” he said. “Workers are utterly exhausted, with several cabin crew members reporting near-misses on their drive home from long shifts.”
Virgin Australia responds
In response to the TWU’s intention to cast a protected action ballot in support of its members’ demands, Virgin Australia commented that it had only been under two weeks since the expiry of the existing Cabin Crew Agreement.
“Since that time, Virgin Australia has continued to bargain in good faith, and with a clear commitment to relevant unions of our intention to reach an amicable solution on a new agreement,” a spokesperson for Virgin Australia said in response to the TWU allegations.
Brisbane-based Virgin Australia entered administration during the pandemic but has slowly built itself back up, having released aircraft and hundreds of crew and ground staff during its downturn.
The airline currently operates a fleet of 60 Boeing 737-800s, nine 737-700s and a pair of 737 MAX 8s. The airline also has 22 Boeing 737 MAX 10s on order.