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Fair Work gives Rex pilots green light to vote on strike

written by Hannah Dowling | June 9, 2022

A Rex Saab 340B, VH-RXX msn 340B-209, as shot by Victor Pody at Melbourne (YMML).

The Fair Work Commission on Wednesday approved the Australian Federation of Air Pilots’ application to conduct a Protected Industrial Action (PIA) ballot over its ongoing pay dispute with Rex Airlines.

It comes after the Australian Federation of Air Pilots (AFAP) rejected Rex’s latest enterprise agreement proposal late last week, arguing it would result in Rex’s Saab pilots seeing “a cut in real-term salary of more than 5 per cent” over four years.

As such, the union said Rex’s Saab pilots “have been left with little option” but to apply to the Fair Work Commission, requesting permission to conduct a ballot on conducting industrial action against the airline.

Rex said the union’s actions were “beyond belief” in response, and added that its latest offer was “substantially better” than one accepted by the union on behalf of QantasLink pilots in 2021. The union disagreed and said Rex’s most recent offer was lower than earlier offers put forward by the airline.

As per the Fair Work Commission’s ruling, an electronic ballot will be run from 15 June to 22 June, with Rex’s pilots to vote on a number of possible actions including four-hour work strikes and bans on signing in for work if there was less than 10 hours between shifts.

It comes as the union and airline enter their fourth year of negotiations over Saab pilots’ pay and working conditions.

Rex said on Tuesday that it was “disappointing” that the union had applied to the Fair Work Commission for permission to hold a ballot on taking industrial action, particularly given that it had accepted a “substantially” lower salary offer for its QantasLink pilots in late 2021.

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“Just last September, the AFAP agreed to a 2 per cent pay rise in 2021 and 2022 for QantasLink pilots,” Rex deputy chairman John Sharp said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Rex on the other hand has offered its SAAB pilots a 5.1 per cent pay rise from 1 July 2022, plus significant catch-up payments worth another 8 per cent once the business is profitable again.

“Rex is the only airline that has not retrenched any of its pilots and it has stood by them through the difficult COVID years,” Sharp added.

“We believe that they will stand by the company during this period where recovery is nascent and the company is still fragile.”

However, the union said Rex’s latest salary offer was “even worse” than other offers it had previously put forward during the ongoing enterprise agreement negotiation process.

“The AFAP stands by our communications to members at Rex and will continue to communicate to our members in an honest, timely and accurate manner,” a spokesperson told Australian Aviation.

It comes after Rex on Monday accused the union of spreading “malicious, misleading and deceptive” information to its members regarding the latest round of negotiations.

“It is disappointing that AFAP would manipulate information provided to them during the course of negotiations to seek to achieve its aim,” the airline said in a statement.

“It is particularly concerning that AFAP, whose president is a pilot with the competitor (QantasLink) would take this approach given the significant efforts made by Rex during the pandemic to preserve the jobs of pilots when so many other airlines were terminating theirs.”

At that time, Rex announced that it was expecting to be operating at 100 per cent of its pre-COVID capacity on its regional network by the end of the year.

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