Wednesday, 19 October 2022

Airport fire and rescue workers threaten to go on strike

How do you know when Christmas is close... when airline or airport staff threaten strike action, and of course this year is no exception.

Australians could soon be dealing with more airport delays as a dispute over a life-threatening issue continues. Airport fire and rescue workers will soon vote on whether they will strike, in a move which could plunge Australians’ travel plans into chaos during the peak holiday period.

Airservices Australia staff have been locked in a heated dispute with their employer over pay and safety conditions. Staff are seeking a 15 per cent pay rise over three years and a bump to their superannuation payment, while they have also expressed concerns over a national shortage of aviation firefighters. 
Staff will vote on whether they should stop working for up to an entire shift, with the strike action likely to start in November or December and run through the holiday season.

That strike ballot has been approved by the Fair Work Commission, with workers required to give seven days' notice if any action goes ahead. The ballot will be put to union members on Wednesday, with a vote taking place in the next two weeks.

UFUAV secretary Wes Garrett said planes would be grounded across the country if the strike goes ahead. He said the lives of air travellers were being put at risk every day because aviation fire and rescue staffing levels are not compliant with safety regulations.

The aviation branch of the United Firefighters Union has been bargaining with Airservices for nearly a year, with workers now looking at taking industrial action.

“Airservices Australia, the federal government owned corporation responsible for the provision of aviation firefighting services at Australia’s airports, cut the number of firefighters by 94 during the pandemic,” Mr Garrett said.

“With people returning to the skies, we don’t have enough staff and right now, we can’t say, hand on heart, that if there was a fire, we’d be able to deal with it.

“Right now, there simply will not be enough firefighters to rescue passengers from a burning aircraft and that’s not acceptable.

“Every day, dozens of flights are operating from Australia’s airports without the necessary protection from aviation firefighters on the ground.”

Mr Garrett said they “fully expect a yes vote to take strike action”.

Travellers have become accustomed to regularly experiencing delays, long queues and cancelled flights as Australia’s aviation industry struggles in the aftermath of Covid. An Airservices Australia spokesperson called on the union to end its strike ballot so the two parties could continue negotiating.

“Airservices Australia is currently in enterprise agreement (EA) negotiations with our Aviation Rescue Fire Fighting Service (ARFFS) employees and their representatives, the United Firefighters Union of Australia – Aviation Branch (UFUAV),” they said.

“Airservices continues to negotiate in good faith with the UFUAV to finalise a new EA. We have made a generous pay increase offer to the UFUA and are calling on them to abandon their strike ballot and return to negotiations.

“Airservices will take all steps necessary to prevent disruptions to flights as a result of the industrial action. 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.”

The UFUAV also said they would continue to negotiate in good faith over the coming weeks in the hope the two parties could reach an agreement, but said the ball is “very much” in Airservices’ court.

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