Airport firefighters have received permission from the Fair Work Commission to vote on strike action in an ongoing dispute with Airservices.
The aviation branch of the United Firefighters Union has been bargaining over a new enterprise agreement for a year and is thought to be demanding a 15 per cent rise over three years.
If strike action goes ahead, it will likely spell more disruption for passengers who have suffered the worst delays on record in April, June and July due to a combination of staff shortages and COVID-19 isolation.
Airservices Australia, the government-owned organisation responsible for airport rescue and firefighting, has said in response it’s negotiating in “good faith” and has already made a “generous” offer to union members.
“Airservices will take all steps necessary to prevent disruptions to flights as a result of the industrial action,” it said in a statement.
“Our priority is to ensure the safe and efficient continuation of our services to keep Australian aviation moving.
“Airservices will continue to respond to the safety needs of airlines, airports and the travelling public.”
The ballot to members includes an option for work stoppages for entire shifts, which would likely lead to major problems at airports.
It comes a week after the Flight Attendants Association of Australia said two groups of Qantas cabin crew have also filed applications to the Fair Work Commission to take industrial action.
National secretary Teri O’Toole told The Australian her members were being offered “dramatically cut conditions” that would “significantly cut their fatigue management”.
She also suggested the airline had threatened to outsource work, but Qantas said in response it was “not our plan” to do so.
The shift extensions planned would mean cabin crew would work for 12 hours instead of 9.45, and up to 14 during disruption. Rest periods would also go down to 10 hours during periods of disruption when no other crew were available.
Potential industrial action, if granted, could include reading safety briefs during paid shifts and strikes.
“Workers are already exhausted trying to keep up with demand on a skeleton workforce following cuts to crew numbers per flight (from five to four) and an overenthusiastic redundancy scheme to cull workers and cut costs,” said O’Toole.
Qantas told the newspaper in response that it has “rigorous fatigue management processes” in place, and the changes to shift length mirror those at other domestic airlines.
“The deal we’re proposing offers pay increases, the opportunity to secure thousands of dollars in incentives and an expansion of overtime payments,” the business said.
It follows Dnata catering staff and Menzies ground handlers calling off a vote on industrial action after securing pay rises and job security protections in September. Dnata ground handlers also called off a planned 24-hour strike after securing an immediate 12.6 per cent pay rise.