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Aviation rescue firefighters will not strike over Easter

written by Jake Nelson | March 19, 2024

Aviation rescue firefighters in Brisbane. (Image: Brisbane Airport)

Aviation rescue firefighters have voted overwhelmingly in favour of protected industrial action but will delay any strikes until after Easter.

More than 90 per cent of United Firefighters Union of Australia (UFUA) members voted for future industrial action, demanding “minimum international staffing levels for safety, better fatigue management, and fair pay rises for emergency workers” as part of enterprise negotiations.

UFUA members will not strike over the Easter break, however, despite earlier threats. The union’s aviation branch secretary, Wes Garrett, said any future action would be the result of Airservices Australia – which is responsible for the provision of aviation rescue firefighting (ARFF) services – refusing to negotiate “safe and fair conditions” for firefighters.

“Airport firefighters are the last line of defence in the event of a catastrophe. Right now, some airports around Australia are not meeting the minimum international staffing standards for a safe response to a critical incident,” Garrett said.

“Firefighters are short-staffed, fatigued, and worried seeing Airservices Australia compromising safe staffing levels and thumbing their nose at the regulator.


“We recognise that industrial action at any time in aviation is disruptive. Sadly, it is necessary to bring Airservices Australia to the table.”

Should industrial action go ahead, airlines will be given seven days’ notice to reschedule or cancel flights during these periods.

“We call on Airservices to agree to minimum staffing clauses in our employment agreement so that we can provide air travellers with the protection they need and deserve,” said Garrett.

Airservices has consistently strongly denied staff shortages, saying the UFUA is mainly angling for a 20 per cent pay rise over three years. According to Airservices CEO Jason Harfield, this pay increase would “cost the aviation industry and their passengers an additional $128 million”.

“We have sufficient Aviation Rescue Fire Fighters to meet our operational requirements, which are monitored and regulated by CASA as the aviation safety regulator,” he said.

“From the outset of negotiations in October 2023, Airservices has offered our ARFF crews an 11.2 per cent pay rise over three years, with no change in conditions.

“However, the UFUA is now seeking to disrupt Australians’ Easter holiday plans, including by instructing their members to conduct a go-slow in not guaranteeing response times, or even delaying their response to emergency situations involving the travelling public beyond the three-minute maximum required by safety regulations.”

Harfield added that ARFF crews are “highly-trained and dedicated professionals” who responded to more than 4,000 calls for assistance and saved 15 lives in the 2022–23 financial year.

“It is therefore concerning that the UFUA would consider it appropriate to have their members potentially delay, or not act as quickly as possible, in responding to emergency situations,” he said.

“Airservices will work with the airlines and airports to maintain safe operations and to minimise disruptions to flights as a result of the threatened industrial action.

“We will continue to seek a resolution with the UFUA to deliver a fair outcome for our ARFF crews that avoids disruption to industry stakeholders and the travelling public.”

Airservices provides ARFF services at 27 of Australia’s busiest airports, and currently employs more than 830 firefighters, with another 48 expected to join this year.

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