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Virgin questions result of TWU’s pilot fatigue survey

written by Jake Nelson | May 24, 2024

A Virgin Australia 737-800, VH-VUS, on approach to Sydney Airport. (Image: Craig Murray)

A TWU survey purporting to show widespread concerns among Virgin pilots about work/life balance may not be an accurate reflection of the workforce’s views, the airline has said.

The survey, which comes amid negotiations on a new enterprise agreement, saw responses from 180 of Virgin’s 1,100 pilots and claimed nearly half would be likely to quit if a proposal to cut rostered days off by six per year goes through, while 93 per cent would vote against the proposed EA.

According to the TWU, the survey showed that pilots are also concerned about Virgin’s roster optimisation system, which “consistently schedules them for maximum shifts and minimum rest periods”. Of the respondents, 85 per cent said it impacts fatigue management, 82 per cent that it impacts family life, and 55 per cent that it impacts mental health.

“Most pilots I fly with are fatigued despite the company believing that there is no fatigue issue,” one pilot said.

National assistant secretary Emily McMillan said this should be a “wake-up call” for Virgin and its owner, US-based investment firm Bain Capital.


“Fatigue, mental health and work/life balance are serious issues while the survey indicates Virgin could lose a huge chunk of its pilot workforce if it pushes ahead with its plan. Workers and customers deserve better after seeing Virgin through administration and roaring back into profit,” McMillan said.

“Virgin and Bain should be taking every step to address these concerns and improve rosters to allow pilots to get enough rest and spend time with their families. Instead, the airline is trying to claw back six days off per year.

“We need to see this proposal dropped and a fair enterprise agreement settled so pilots can concentrate on the crucial job they do without feeling stressed at work and at home.”

However, according to a Virgin Australia spokesperson, most of the airline’s pilots are not represented by the TWU, which speaks for around 250 Virgin pilots.

“We do not believe this survey is an accurate representation of the views of all Virgin Australia pilots,” the spokesperson said.

“The survey contained leading questions designed to elicit negative responses and support the TWU narrative. There were no controls on who could respond to the survey or how many times they could complete it.

“We understand the TWU represents a small proportion of our pilots, with the vast majority being represented by the Australian Federation of Air Pilots (AFAP). AFAP has given in-principle support to the deal.”

The spokesperson said Virgin pilots’ 156 rostered days off per year are “the most generous” of any aviation enterprise agreement in Australia, compared to 130 for Qantas and 132 for Jetstar, and that it uses “a robust fatigue management system approved by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA)” and extensively consults with pilots on the issue.

“Under the proposed new EA, this is being reduced to 150 days off per year. This means that under the proposed agreement Virgin Australia pilots will still have 18-20 more days off per annum relative to their colleagues in other airlines,” the spokesperson said.

“This change improves Virgin Australia’s ability to better serve Australia during holiday periods, by reducing one day off in peak flying months but retaining the status quo in low demand periods. It also enables us to pay first year increases to remuneration of 15.6 per cent for captains and 17.15 per cent for first officers.

“Our pilots have the highest rest protections in the industry, with additional and market-leading fatigue-related protections proposed by the company as part of negotiations and included in the proposed EA.”

In response to Virgin’s statement, McMillan accused the airline of “attempting to belittle the genuine concerns of pilots”.

“When 93 per cent of survey respondents say they’d vote down an agreement, it’s extremely disrespectful to dismiss those workers as insignificant, and short-sighted to say the least to assume pilots that didn’t participate in the survey are happy with the proposal,” she told Australian Aviation.

“For years, pilots have raised issue with Virgin on the poor rostering system that pressures them to work longer hours and spend less time at home. Over nine months of negotiations, pilots have expressed the importance of their days off to help balance out maxed out rosters.

“Rather than rushing out a vote on a proposal on which pilots have vocalised their concern, Virgin should return to the table to settle a fair agreement.”

AFAP declined to comment.

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Comments (2)

  • If they want more flexibility in certain months, they might just have to change the way days off can be rostered, not lower the number of days off.
    Worked for an airline once, where we were guaranteed min 8 days off per month, but 32 days off in rolling 3 months.
    So if you worked a lot 1 month, you knew you would get compensated within the next 2 months.

  • One is asking for trouble when you have two industrial groups representing workers employed to do the same job to the extent that it could be true that each industrial group is fighting to extinguish the other at the expense of the poor old membership fee paying worker and more than likely the issue in question gets disguised too. Now in this case what is the problem? – the actual numbers of days off in a bid period or, the actual numbers of hours of rostered duty per 30 or 7 day period?

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