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Ex-Virgin staff describes life under former corporate affairs head

written by Hannah Dowling | November 25, 2021
Virgin Australia Boeing 737-8FE departs from Brisbane at sunset. (Michael Marston)

Former Virgin Australia staff, who worked under the recently resigned chief of corporate affairs, have spoken out about their experiences that sparked an internal review into her workplace behaviour.

It comes just days after corporate affairs chief Moksha Watts resigned from her role amid an internal review into her behaviour, after just eight months with the company.

Watts’ resignation reportedly follows a significant turnover of staff working in her department.

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According to a report by The Australian, a number of middle managers and junior staff exited the corporate affairs team while working under Watts, including the airline’s sustainability manager, a social media manager, two corporate communications staff and a government relations adviser.

While some staff from the department were reportedly subject to non-disclosure agreements, others have now spoken out about their experiences, with one staff member stating they felt “defeated and stressed” during their time at the company.

Speaking on a LinkedIn post, the same former employee said that following the administration and sale of Virgin to Bain Capital, they were “constantly feeling defeated and stressed” and “couldn’t switch off”.

“The stress took a huge toll on me physically and mentally,” the former staffer said.

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“You’ve got to pick your battles and I ultimately decided that even my dream job at my dream company wasn’t worth the toll.

“Across the division, the stories were the same – or much worse. Almost every staff member across our departments left.”

Reports suggest that only one person remained in the corporate affairs who was there prior to the sale to Bain Capital.

Meanwhile, another former member of the team said, “We’d just come out of a pretty horrendous time with the bankruptcy and sale.

“But instead of a new beginning, it just seemed to go from bad to worse. Our team had already gone from 20 people to five.”

Virgin Australia did not respond to a request for comment.

Earlier this week, it was revealed that Watts has resigned from her role after an internal review of her workplace behaviour commenced.

While it has not been confirmed what sparked such an investigation, Virgin CEO Jayne Hrdlicka announced Watts’ departure to employees in a memo and added that “grievances of any nature will be taken seriously, and we follow due process in investigating in order to be fair to everyone involved”.

Watts was in the role for just eight months, after being appointed under Virgin’s major management reshuffle earlier this year.

According to the memo sent to Virgin staff, Watts came to the decision herself to resign “in the midst of an ongoing international review into her workplace behaviour”.

“She felt it was in her best interests and the best interests of the company to resign,” wrote Hrdlicka.

Virgin’s chief people officer Lisa Burquest is set to take over Watt’s responsibilities as interim chief of corporate affairs.

“At Virgin Australia, we work hard to ensure our workplace is a safe and positive workplace for everyone and we strive to live our values every day,” Hrdlicka told employees.

Despite the untoward circumstances of Watts’ departure from the airline, Hrdlicka noted that she “had done a significant and valued job with governments, key stakeholders and crafting the company’s sustainability policy”, since she took up the top communications job in March of this year.

Watts was one of half a dozen new appointments in Virgin’s executive leadership team that were announced in January, following the airline’s exit from administration under new owner Bain Capital.

In fact, all but one of Virgin’s pre-administration executive team survived the major reshuffle, with long-serving COO Stuart Aggs as the last man standing.

Meanwhile, Watts and Hrdlicka worked together previously, when Hrdlicka was CEO at Jetstar and Watts held a senior management role in government, industry and international affairs. Watts later became head of sustainability and industry affairs at Qantas.

Ex-Virgin staff describes life under former corporate affairs head Comment

  • Ex Virgin

    says:

    Typical Bain being ruthless. When they bid for the airline they said they would have Jayne as CEO. Soon as they realised that unions and employees didn’t like the idea given her tumultuous history of Jetstar, they swapped to saying they fully supported the CEO. As soon as staff were hoodwinked into Bains promises and voted, they ousted the current CEO and in came Jayne. The Virgin culture is unique and was great to work with. When Bain came in, the culture went downhill pretty quickly. The CEO was brutal in EBA negotiations even messaging crew to straight out point out not accepting the new EBA was a disappointing issue for the airline and bluntly putting that nothing else was on the table. Bain sought to take advantage of the pandemic to fasten their profits. They wanted to strip all penalties for an already low paid job, freeze pay increases, remove days off with no extra pay – basically reducing the wage further. If that wasn’t bad enough the CEO failed to acknowledge crew needs to have food on board. Flight crew were given food but the company said they couldn’t afford or logistically manage food for crew. It was clear they didn’t care. It was a way to cut costs, the same way they delayed catering onboard. After several months of reserve rosters even during peak periods, fighting to get basic food for crew onboard, a lot of people realised that this wasn’t the same Virgin no more. It’s no wonder people left in droves. The heart and soul was stripped quickly. Bain are very clever in marketing the airline as being the same old Virgin but with refusing to let Branson own 10%, and his ownership being a piecemeal 5%, it’s pretty clear where the airline stands.

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