Virgin has defended the new terms it has offered employees after unions yesterday branded them “savage” and claimed they would lower safety standards.
“The changes we are seeking will shape a future for our airline that is sustainable for the long term and will mean we can save more jobs,” a spokesman told Australian Aviation.
Yesterday eight unions, including the TWU and AFAP, signed a joint statement in which they launched a wide-ranging attack on the airline’s new owners, Bain. It came as the two sides are attempting to negotiate new enterprise agreements underpinning terms and conditions, which have expired.
On Thursday, unions and executives are due to sit on the first meeting of a new advisory council, designed to give staff a say in the running of the business.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has decimated our industry and the impacts are expected to last for a number of years, and this makes the need for change even greater,” said Virgin.
“We are targeting all areas of our business to reset our cost base and get the certainty we need to be able to plan for our future flying schedule when demand returns.
“We are not alone in needing to reduce our cost base and remain competitive in our industry, and will continue to work with the unions to support the best outcome for our business and team members in response to this crisis.”
Yesterday’s letter made a series of claims, including that Virgin are using the new enterprise agreements to “drive down conditions”, that there was a “lack of knowledge” of the business’ traditional brand and culture, and even hints they believe a lack of airplanes available to fly suggests more job cuts are coming.
“Workers are alarmed at the shortfall in aircraft designated and ready for flying,” said the statement. “Despite a promise of 75 aircraft there are just 56 ready for flying. They will be questioning Bain on how it plans to keep 6,000 workers employed with less aircraft operating.
“It is incumbent on Bain to show it can listen and learn from workers who have helped build Virgin up. Bain must show it can focus on maintaining the community trust that Virgin has created over the years rather than morphing into a dictatorial culture.”
Yesterday’s letter was the latest sign the airline’s relationship with unions is in difficulty.
Earlier, relations with the TWU broke down before the sale was complete because of Bain’s refusal to dismiss speculation former Jetstar chief executive Jayne Hrdlicka could be the new chairman.
Hrdlicka had a notoriously fraught relationship with unions in her role at the Qantas Group.
In fact, the TWU only backed the sale to Bain at the 11th hour, and then warned the new owners “must listen to workers and utilise their skills, energy and experience in rebuilding the airline”.
The letter was jointly signed by eight organisations:
- TWU (Transport Workers Union)
- ASU (Australian Services Union)
- VIPA (Virgin Australia Group Pilots)
- FAAA (Flight Attendants’ Association of Australia)
- ALAEA (Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers’ Association)
- AFAP (Australian Federation of Air Pilots)
- ETU (Electrical Trades Union)
- AMWU (Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union)