Ground workers at Virgin Australia have applied to the Fair Work Commission for a Protected Action Ballot (PAB) as negotiations stall over the airline’s refusal to correct poverty pay, insecure work, and safety issues.
The PAB application is a step towards possible strikes. If the Fair Work Commission grants approval, workers will vote to obtain rights to take protected industrial action.
The news comes following reports from ground workers and cabin crew that they require second jobs to compensate for low pay and unsustainable rosters as the struggle with home loans and leases.
Cabin crew at Virgin and regional arm VARA have begun pledging to pursue a PAB if reasonable solutions aren’t brought to negotiations soon.
Pilots have also commenced bargaining, sharing may similar frustrations over pay, conditions and working hours.
TWU members across ground, cabin crew and pilots are frustrated that Virgin’s approach to bargaining has failed to act on 2020 commitments that wage freezes and cuts to conditions were a temporary COVID measure that would be repaid.
Virgin Australia recently reported a $129 million profit but failed to recognise the hard work and sacrifices of its workforce who stuck by the airline through the pandemic and administration.
Ground workers are seeking a fair correction to Award-minimum pay, more full-time jobs, increased hours for part-time workers, better rostering, minimum crewing numbers, extreme weather provisions, and recognition for acting in higher duties.
TWU National Assistant Secretary Nick McIntosh said workers’ patience has run out.
“The message we’re receiving loud and clear from TWU members above and below the wing is that Virgin must correct poverty pay, insecure work and unsafe conditions, otherwise workers will have to walk away from jobs that have become unsustainable,” he said.
“These are workers that have remained loyal to Virgin through thick and thin and are devastated that it has reached breaking point. Ground workers have asked the Fair Work Commission to grant them a Protected Action Ballot because they can’t afford to stay in low-paid, part-time and insecure jobs that have them knocked back from home loans and struggling with rental agreements.
“In an aviation industry in high demand with soaring profits, it’s unbelievable that workers are pushed to find second or third jobs to keep a roof over their head.
“Australians have watched in horror as standards have plummeted in aviation following Qantas’ illegal outsourcing of ground workers. These are workers that get planes safely in the air: securing loads, ensuring weight is balanced, handling dangerous goods, and feeding vital information to pilots. They’re the ones making sure passengers can collect their bags, wheelchairs and pets at their destination.
“Virgin now has some of the lowest pay and conditions across the industry and is turning a deaf ear to its workers, including by failing to commit to a five-point plan for a better future. If this is how Bain Capital intends to run the airline, passengers should brace for disruption as turnover increases and workers are pushed to pursue protected industrial action to achieve safe and sustainable conditions.
“The TWU is calling for an independent Safe and Secure Skies Commission to bring good, secure jobs, reliable service standards and fair ticket prices back to aviation,” he said.
Ground workers and cabin crew have fallen so far behind that Virgin has had to give pay increases just to keep up with legal minimum rates. Meanwhile, many pilots are refusing to return after COVID or moving abroad because Virgin jobs have become unsustainable.
Virgin workers five point plan on Bain Capital for commitments on (circa July):
- Respect for workers – Address cultural issues that have led to high turnover, absenteeism and disputation
- Good, secure jobs – All ground, cabin crew and pilots to be directly employed in sustainable jobs
- Ongoing investment – Invest in technology, fleet and workers to maintain and grow safe, fair standards
- Employee share scheme – Annual $1,000 employee share scheme in conjunction with IPO
- Industry reform – Support the campaign for a Safe and Secure Skies Commission to rebalance aviation