The TWU has said it has “serious concerns about the future of Virgin” and lashed out at “background shenanigans” after the business announced Jayne Hrdlicka would be the new chief executive.
However, it also added it was “encouraged” that new owner Bain reiterated it was committed to keeping the airline as a mid-market ‘hybrid’ rather than reverting back to being a low-cost carrier.
The TWU’s statement came hours after administrator Deloitte announced that current chief executive Paul Scurrah apparently resigned on Thursday.
His departure is significant because he is synonymous with the airline’s plan to operate as a mid-market ‘hybrid’ that would potentially ensure more jobs are retained. Hrdlicka, meanwhile, also had a notoriously fraught relationship with unions in her earlier role at the Qantas Group, where she headed low-cost carrier Jetstar.
National secretary Michael Kaine said, “Yesterday the TWU flagged serious concerns regarding the CEO’s position at Virgin, which have now been confirmed. It is encouraging that today Virgin has made a statement on a full-service airline.
“This is an important step forward but we still have serious concerns about the future of Virgin. The statement makes no mention of previous commitments to regional routes, the international division, 6,000 jobs or fleet numbers.
“We are seeking a meeting with Bain Capital to discuss these issues and our delegates will decide in the coming days about the future of industrial talks with the airline.
“We sincerely hope that the veil of secrecy and background shenanigans on display over the past few days is not repeated. Trust must be at the heart of Bain’s dealings.”
The TWU’s public comments came minutes after Bain attempted to reseize control of the narrative and said Hrdlicka would provide a “different form of leadership”.
“We need a hands-on CEO with deep aviation, commercial, operational and transformation experience,” said Bain Capital managing director Mike Murphy in a statement. “She has extensive airline experience and I know she, alongside Bain Capital, wants nothing more than to see Virgin Australia prosper and thrive well into the future.”
Both Hrdlicka and Bain were quick to emphasis that the appointment would not result in a new strategy.
“I appreciate Virgin Australia’s unique culture and I want to protect and build on it,” Hrdlicka said. “And I am determined that Virgin Australia reinvigorates its strong brand and its passion for customer service, while embracing the diversity, talent and strength of its people.”
Murphy added that while this year had been the “toughest in global aviation history”, the business was “committed to the strategy Virgin Australia announced in August, when the company outlined its plans to protect thousands of jobs, invest in technology and honour all employee entitlements”.
The handover will take place in early November, when the formalities of Virgin’s sale to Bain are completed.
The news comes despite Scurrah exclusively telling the Australian Aviation Podcast just weeks ago that Bain was “a really good owner” and that the relationship between the investors and the existing management team was like “a good marriage”.
At the end of the show, Scurrah signalled he was keen to appear on the show again to talk through how his plans were developing, suggesting his decision to apparently resign is a recent one.
The announcement of Hrdlicka as the new boss is likely to infuriate the TWU, which had a high-profile falling out with the airline when rumours of her appointment swilled months ago.
Just yesterday, the TWU suspended negotiations with the business over new working terms for its members until it received clarification that Scurrah would not be fired. However, relations were unravelling before that and the union only backed Bain’s acquisition at the last minute.
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