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Virgin cabin crew threaten industrial action

written by Adam Thorn | November 13, 2023

Victor Pody shot this Virgin Australia 737-800, VH-YIT.

The TWU has applied for permission for Virgin cabin crew to take industrial action against the airline.

The union is negotiating a new enterprise agreement and claims the business hasn’t “held up its end of the bargain” after its staff helped the airline recover from administration and COVID to record a $129 million profit for FY23.

In response, Virgin insisted it was committed to reaching an “amicable solution” and said the previous agreement only expired two weeks ago.

It significantly comes after ground crew also applied to the Fair Work Commission for permission to take industrial action, which has since been granted.

The news that two major groups of staff could be set to down tools comes despite the TWU previously hailing CEO Jayne Hrdlicka’s performance when she took over the job in late 2020.


“Our cabin crew, ground crew, and pilot members have all reported fears of mistakes being made due to their unsustainable working conditions, made worse by high turnover, fatigue-related absenteeism, and juggling second or third jobs,” said the union’s national secretary, Michael Kaine.

“Workers are utterly exhausted, with several cabin crew members reporting near-misses on their drive home from long shifts. We need to see a considerable shift in Virgin’s bargaining approach to ensure a fair, sustainable enterprise agreement offer and avoid last resort strikes.”

The TWU first applied for permission for a strike ballot of workers three weeks ago and claims the airline failed in an application to have strike notification times extended from three to seven days.

It also wants an annual $1,000 employee share scheme to run in conjunction with any relisting on the ASX.

Virgin told Australian Aviation in a statement, “It is important to note that the current Cabin Crew Agreement expired less than two weeks ago.  Since that time, Virgin Australia has continued to bargain in good faith, and with a clear commitment to relevant unions of our intention to reach an amicable solution on a new agreement.

“The TWU taking this move to go to ballot for protected industrial action while negotiations are still progressing both constructively and within reasonable timeframes reflects the changed industrial relations landscape and is now a common part of the early process.

“Virgin Australia looks forward to the next round of negotiations with both the TWU and the FAAA on Wednesday November 15.  Both unions were accepting of our request to move the meeting by 3 business days to ensure there is adequate time to review and respond to the most recent union claim.

“Virgin Australia remains confident that an amicable solution will be found.  One that appropriately rewards our valued cabin crew and at the same time protects the underlying commercial resilience of Virgin Australia and the outstanding value and choice it provides every day to the Australian travelling public.”

The breakdown in relations is a long way short of when Kaine hailed the performance of the new Virgin management on the Australian Aviation podcast in December 2020.

“They’ve stuck to the arrangements they said they would put in place to keep the scope of the company,” said Kaine. “And holding to that means the starting points of a bridge of trust being built between us.”

It came after the pair struck a quick deal that saw employees accept an 18-month to two-year pay freeze in exchange for a guarantee that no jobs would be outsourced.

The deal was a coup for the former Jetstar boss, given her notoriously bad relationship with unions over the years.

Unions at one stage walked out of negotiations when rumours first emerged that former boss Paul Scurrah was to leave to be replaced by Hrdlicka.

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