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Work with us, unions urge Virgin as Jayne Hrdlicka bows out

written by Jake Nelson | February 20, 2024

Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka with crew in 2020. (Image: Virgin Australia)

Major unions have called on Virgin Australia’s leadership to work constructively with staff as CEO Jayne Hrdlicka prepares to depart.

The Transport Workers’ Union has urged Virgin owner Bain Capital to keep its promises to ground staff, cabin crew and pilots under whichever CEO replaces Hrdlicka, while the Australian Services Union said the passing of the torch allows for a “reset” with customer service staff.

In a statement, TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said that while the union had “not always seen eye to eye” with Hrdlicka, it acknowledged her work in meeting Bain’s commitments to Virgin staff, including deals with cabin crew and ground crew that averted strikes last year, and the insourcing of international baggage handling.

“The decision to answer workers’ call with more insourced airport jobs in stark contrast to Qantas’ destructive model of fragmentation was, in our view, one of the best leadership decisions made by Hrdlicka and her team. It showed that listening to workers’ ideas on the best way forward for the airline is a valuable attribute for the CEO of Virgin Australia,” he said.

“Bain Capital must now reassure workers that the commitments made to remain with the airline long-term and to prioritise good, secure jobs and loyal workers are unchanged. The recruitment of the next CEO must carefully consider attitudes towards workers and experience collaborating with the workforce to achieve the best results for a business.

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“Aviation is a volatile industry, made more so by private ownership of airports and airlines. To rebuild and stabilise the industry, we need a Safe and Secure Skies Commission to set fair and appropriate standards.”

The Australian Services Union, in contrast, was more critical of Virgin management, with assistant national secretary Emeline Gaske saying Virgin has “not always valued the contributions of its hard-working staff and has actively fought against the union’s efforts to ensure workers have access to fair pay and conditions”.

“Customer service staff are the heartbeat of an organisation such as Virgin yet the ASU’s reasonable requests for recognition of those workers and the establishment of fair and stable rosters have repeatedly been met with significant resistance,” she said.

“This is no way to treat a workforce that accepted wage freezes during the pandemic and stood by the airline during a time of significant uncertainty, which has undoubtedly played a major role in Virgin’s return to profit.

“Virgin itself proclaimed that its people have been a ‘centrepiece’ of a successful transformation. The ASU looks forward to working closely with new management to ensure this sentiment is reflected in fair pay and conditions, as well as job security, for employees as the airline chases continued profit growth and market expansion.”

Hrdlicka announced her retirement on Tuesday in a surprise statement after more than three years as CEO of Australia’s second-largest airline group.

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