The Transport Workers Union and Jetstar are at loggerheads over a wage claim.
The union last week won an application at the Fair Work Commission for a protected action ballot against Qantas after a series of collapsed negotiations involving a new pay deal that included an 18-month wage freeze for 350 baggage handlers at the airline’s budget carrier, Jetstar.
The negotiations had stalled amid allegations from the TWU that Jetstar management refused to guarantee any full-time jobs; would not align job classifications along with others comparable in the industry; and offered minimal allowances that would not be payable to 96 per cent of their workforce.
Jetstar had bypassed the TWU in trying to push through a resolution to the long-running pay dispute but it failed last month when only 33 per cent of the 350 baggage handlers voted in favour of the deal.
But now with approval from the Fair Work Commission to trigger a protected action ballot against Qantas, the TWU is drawing up plans for industrial action should negotiations with the airline fail to make new ground.
A protected action ballot must take place before industrial action can lawfully take place. The ballot has been scheduled to take place in six weeks.
“It has become clear in these negotiations with Qantas and its groups that the company is not willing to discuss in good faith. How can you possibly be saying to your workforce that they will take home wages that are in some cases below the poverty line,” TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon told The Australian.
“At the same time, executives are paying themselves a 500 per cent wage increase and the company is recording record profits that are not being shared with the most poorly paid within their responsibilities.”
A Jetstar spokesman said it was “disappointing the TWU had resorted to threatening the travel plans of customers”.
“While industrial action is by no means confirmed, should the union go through with it, we have contingency plans in place to ensure customers will not be disrupted,” he said. “If we agreed to the TWU’s demands, it would significantly drive up our costs and weaken our ability to offer low fares to Australian travellers.”
The rejected deal was based on the same wages agreement that has been rolled out across Qantas’s workforce and will earn the workers a one-time 5 per cent bonus but also lock them into an 18-month pay freeze.
The Australian understands Jetstar baggage handlers will still receive the 5 per cent cash bonus if the EBA is voted up and employees do not engage in any action that harms the company in the meantime.
The move comes as the TWU negotiates another pay deal for Qantas Ground Services, which represents about 2100 domestic and international workers.
While the TWU has not applied for a protected action ballot for QGS workers, Mr Sheldon said the airline’s management was pursuing its same “intransigent” strategy at Jetstar that has stalled all talks of a wage increase.
The TWU said that should negotiations for a QGS pay rise collapse, then the union would look to roll those workers and the Jetstar-affected workers into a wide-ranging industrial action.
“As night follows day those workers will reject the proposition from the company that forces them to stay on poverty wages,” Mr Sheldon said.