The TWU is taking Virgin to the Fair Work Commission over its decision to stand down ground handlers it claims were only recently doing overtime.
Virgin said in response that even though 170 staff had been technically ‘stood down’, the majority are still working close to their normal full-time hours.
It comes as the government recently ended JobKeeper payments for those working in domestic aviation, though effectively continued it for Qantas employees working on international flights.
Virgin’s head of aircraft maintenance and ramp services, Job VandenHeuvel, told affected staff in a letter that they would “not [be] required to work your usual hours” but that they may still have to work some hours “in accordance with operational requirements”.
In its submission to the Fair Work Commission, the TWU claimed that many of those now technically stood down were previously working overtime recently.
The union said Virgin is taking this action to avoid paying employees overtime rates and penalty rates and in lieu time agreed as part of its enterprise agreement.
Virgin said in response, “Prior to the latest round of border changes, it had been our intention to have all airport-based team members return to work in their pre-COVID capacity.”
It also said the “majority” of its stood-down team members are working “close to their normal full-time hours”.
“Reports that Virgin Australia has fully stood them down in the wake of Job Keeper ending are categorically false – none are fully stood down,” the business emphasised.
“Approximately two-thirds of Virgin Australia’s full-time airport-based team members are working normal hours. The majority of other team members are working roughly 85 per cent of their normal hours, except for a very small per cent who are working reduced hours at their own election.”
TWU national secretary Michael Kaine blamed the government for replacing JobKeeper with a subsidised passenger flights to stimulate demand.
“The Prime Minister’s cheap flights plan turned out to be a cheap trick played on aviation workers,” said Kaine. “The federal government’s decision to cut off Jobkeeper has resulted in Virgin workers being stood down from their jobs.
“This disastrous move by Scott Morrison means domestic aviation workers have been cut adrift and Virgin workers are now worried sick about how they will pay their bills and feed their families,” he said.
“Aviation is teetering on the brink and is clearly not able to bounce back while the pandemic endures. Virgin is telling workers its flying schedule means the work is not there for them and it can only roster them on partially.
“Yet again it is aviation workers who are having to take the hit over the federal government’s failings.”
The breakdown in relations between the TWU and Virgin comes despite the two organisations appearing to draw a line under previous troubles last year.
In December, Kaine said Virgin had “stuck to the arrangements they said they would put in place to keep the scope of the company”, which it said was the starting points of “a bridge of trust being built between us”.
The TWU had previously hit out at new owner Bain’s “background shenanigans” regarding the exit of former CEO Paul Scurrah.
The departure of Scurrah angered unions because he was synonymous with the airline’s plan to operate as a mid-market ‘hybrid’ rather than reverting back to being a low-cost carrier like predecessor Virgin Blue.