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Virgin pilots green light new enterprise agreement

written by Hannah Dowling | August 10, 2021
BOEING 737 800 VIRGIN AUSTRALIA MEL OCT17 RF 5K5A3203 2
A Virgin Australia 737 800 flies past a rainbow in Melbourne (Rob Finlayson)

Virgin Australia has finally struck a deal with its pilots for a new enterprise agreement, amid ongoing border closures that threaten to see mass stand-downs at the airline.

According to unions, 73 per cent of Virgin Australia pilots voted in favour of the new enterprise agreement, which will now be sent to the Fair Work Commission for final approval.

The Australian Federation of Air Pilots, which represents 70 per cent of Virgin’s 737 pilots, said the negotiated package includes three hourly rate increases for pilots over the next 30 months, representing a total 4.9 per cent increase on the current enterprise agreement.

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It also secures Virgin pilots a minimum of 12 days off per 28 day roster period, while Virgin has committed to no additional compulsory redundancies for pilots through to the end of 2022.

The deal marks the close of the final outstanding contract deal to be made since Bain Capital took over the airline last year.

Virgin previously signed off enterprise agreements with cabin crew, engineers and ground crew, but those in the cockpit were the last major group to sign off.

The deal has been struck as speculation continues to swirl that Virgin will follow in rival Qantas’ footsteps and soon announce mass stand-downs across its workforce, due to a decimated flight schedule after half the country fell into lockdown.

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“The approval of the agreement delivers certainty for Virgin B737 Pilots during a challenging period. While the deal isn’t perfect it represents a solid platform to build on in the future,” said AFAP Senior Legal/Industrial Officer Deanna Cain.

“Pilots have taken a pragmatic view in the circumstances and voted to secure certainty over their working conditions. The deal locks in greater time at home and increases to their hourly rates over the next 2 and a half years”.

“The agreement also provides for a guarantee of no redundancies until the end of 2022 and a strong baseline of income throughout the current period of instability.”

President of the Virgin Independent Pilots Association (VIPA) John Lyons said the agreement has been settled at a crucial time for the industry.

“The current aviation climate provided difficult circumstances for workers to negotiate, yet by standing strong and united Virgin pilots have succeeded in achieving a good package,” he said.

“Given the fatigue of more than a year of uncertainty and a yo-yo effect of stand-ups and stand-downs, pilots have held out to ensure the best possible outcome for themselves and their families, while ensuring they can do their jobs at the high standards expected of the airline.

It also follows the news, announced in May, that the VIPA and Transport Workers Union (TWU) would merge, as the pair attempted to negotiate this crucial deal with the airline over its pilot’s working terms.

TWU national secretary Michael Kaine welcomed the result and commended Virgin pilots for standing strong during a tumultuous period.

“We congratulate Virgin pilots for achieving good outcomes and ensuring certainty for the future. Signing off on a decent enterprise deal enables pilots to focus solely on the important job of getting planes safely into the sky,” he said.

“Virgin’s new owners have now worked with unions and their members to achieve sensible outcomes for workers across the board. A stark contrast to Qantas’s callous approach to illegally axe and outsource workers to prevent them exercising their legal rights to bargain or take industrial action.

“The federal government should take stock and ensure workers right across aviation are supported so that the industry remains safe, secure and viable once demand for flights returns to normal.”

The complete merger is set to officially take place in the coming months, also following approval from the Fair Work Commission.

According to the two unions, a specialist pilot’s devision will be created within the TWU in order to give pilots “a powerful voice” among other aviation transport workers, including cabin crew, baggage handlers, cleaners, caterers and security workers.

“We are proud to merge with a union which will help boost the voice of pilots and give us added strength across the industry, whether in dealing with employers or in achieving regulatory reform,” Lyons said at the time of the announcement.

Meanwhile, Kaine said, “Amalgamation will give our members a stronger voice not just in Virgin but across the aviation landscape. Both unions are focused on lifting standards in aviation and using our collective strength to achieve that.

“We are putting the federal government on notice that workers right across the airport are united and that we will hold them to account over safety and service standards in aviation.”

Earlier this year, Virgin cabin crew overwhelmingly agreed on a new enterprise agreement with the airline, with 89 per cent of staff voting through the deal.

That followed five other agreements approved by staff last year that were negotiated between the TWU and new chief executive Jayne Hrdlicka.

Kaine said the deal maintained standards on service and safety that passengers expect.

“These standards, which include fair rates of pay and enforcement of provisions to ensure crew are rested and not fatigued, will ultimately help ensure Virgin’s future,” he said.

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