The Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association is set to next week ballot its Qantas members on whether to take industrial action.
It comes after the AFR reported the union received permission from the Fair Work Commission as it attempts to renegotiate its enterprise bargaining agreements.
Qantas said in response the action was “completely unnecessary” and that the increase in pay being demanded was something it “simply can’t afford”.
It comes amid a backdrop of the airline facing numerous criticisms over its decision to award staff a $5,000 bonus as opposed to a more generous increase in pay.
The ALAEA is seeking a 12 per cent pay rise, with its federal secretary, Steve Purvinas, arguing members had not received an increase in four years.
“The airline has not taken negotiations seriously,” said Purvis. “There have been years of meetings and no progress. The overpaid CEO [Alan Joyce] expects all workers to freeze their wages as the board tucks away bonus and share options for Qantas executives.”
Options for industrial action, which would likely occur in August or September, will include overtime bans and 12-hour stoppages.
Qantas said in response the threat was the last thing the industry needs as it recovers from the pandemic.
“The latest claim by the ALAEA was for a one-year agreement with a 12 per cent pay rise for Qantas engineers,” said Qantas. “That’s something we simply can’t afford and is well above wage increases for other employees across the group.
“Negotiations for Jetstar and Network Aviation’s [a FIFO subsidiary] engineers agreements recommenced in May, so it is completely unreasonable to take this step given we’re still early in the process.”
Last week Australian Aviation reported how a number of unions attacked the $5,000 bonus as a “bribe” and “sham”.
TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said, “For Joyce, this tactic kills two birds with one stone: distract the angry public from Qantas becoming the worst-performing airline, and pressure workers into accepting wage freezes that will crush pay and conditions at the airport for decades.”
FAAA Federal Secretary Teri O’Toole added Qantas management wasn’t acting in good faith.
“This conditional payment in no way makes up for the disgraceful tactics used by Qantas management to coerce international cabin crew into accepting a deal that they virtually unanimously voted against for how it worsened their jobs and work-life balance.
“Domestic cabin crew are bargaining now and we were waiting for another underhanded tactic to pressure them into a shoddy deal — well, here it is.”
However, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said the payment acknowledged a “tough few years” for the whole industry.
“In February, we announced a bonus scheme that gives employees at least 1000 shares in the national carrier if key conditions are met, which are on track,” he said.
“Today, we’re announcing a one-off payment that goes some of the way to acknowledging the sacrifices our people have made, including long periods of no work and no annual wage increases. It also recognises the great work they are doing as we restart the airline, which has been challenging for everyone.
“This comes at a time when travel demand is rebounding but our people are facing a unique set of cost of living pressures, which frankly they’d be in a better position to handle if aviation hadn’t been so badly hit over the past two years. That’s now changing.
“We can’t afford to permanently increase salaries beyond the two per cent threshold we’ve set, but we can afford to make this one-off payment on top of the Qantas share rights we’ve already given.
“Getting our permanent cost base right is how we’re able to reinvest, which ultimately means more opportunity for our people.”
The development came alongside a separate row in which the pilots’ union AIPA suggested its members only voted through a deal on working terms because Qantas threatened to outsource jobs. Qantas strongly denied the claims, telling Australian Aviation it “never” used those words.