Airport firefighters could strike over the Christmas holiday period after being granted a key extension by the Fair Work Commission.
The move has the potential to cause significant delays and cancellations for passengers during what is traditionally one of the busiest periods of the year for domestic aviation.
Earlier this month, the United Firefighters Union voted 93 per cent in favour of work stoppages between two and 12 hours, and also upheld a no-confidence motion in Airservices Australia.
However, the union this week won an extension to their window to hold the action until 1 January.
The UFU is thought to be seeking a 15.5 per cent pay rise over three years as well as a commitment to hiring more staff.
Airservices Australia, the government-owned organisation responsible for airport rescue and firefighting, is offering an increase of 11.5 per cent.
Should a strike take place, it would mean local fire brigades would have to pick up the extra work — though some airlines could refuse to land at airports.
UFU aviation branch secretary Wes Garrett told The Australian it was critical airports were fully staffed with firefighters at all times.
“Every day, hundreds of flights are operating from Australia’s airports without the aviation firefighting protection they need in accordance with international aviation safety regulation,” said Garrett.
“That means that the safety of thousands of air travellers is at risk, and that’s why aviation firefighters are calling for an urgent increase in staffing numbers and major reform to the management of aviation rescue and fire services across Australia.”
Airservices earlier said the UFU should “return to the negotiating table” and argued it had 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.
“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.”
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.