May 24, 2024


A survey of 180 Virgin pilots has shown fatigue, work/life balance and mental health are already suffering from unsustainable rosters, yet Virgin is trying to strip pilots of six days off per year.

Nearly half of pilots surveyed said they’d likely leave their job if the proposal went through, which could lead to major pilot shortages in an industry that has suffered a mass exodus of skilled, experienced workers in recent years. A majority of respondents also warned Virgin’s efficiency would deteriorate under the airline’s plan.

Pilots have raised concerns that Virgin’s roster optimisation system consistently schedules them for maximum shifts and minimum rest periods, with 85% saying this impacts their fatigue management, 82% saying it impacts family life, and 55% saying it impacts their mental health.

Although the issues are broadly felt, pilots are deterred from raising fatigue and mental health concerns for fear of receiving a failed medical and losing their pilot license.

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

Another said: “The health impacts will cause a loss of medicals and being forced to follow other income streams. We can’t keep eroding our work conditions.”

Pilots have been negotiating with Virgin since September, but rather than reaching a fair agreement that repays pandemic sacrifices and addresses work/life balance and fatigue issues, Virgin has failed to deliver on a promised new rostering system and wants to reduce days off.

A huge 93% of respondents said they’d vote no on Virgin’s proposed agreement, calling to retain their days off and for non-flying duties to be better accounted for.

Last July, Virgin pilots, cabin crew and ground crew served a claim on Virgin owners Bain Capital including for respect, good, secure jobs, and ongoing investment in the business and workforce.

At the end of 2023, ground crew and cabin crew filed for the first ever protected action ballots at Virgin, but strikes were averted when they settled good work/life balance agreements, improved pay and a commitment to insource more ground handling jobs.

TWU National Assistant Secretary Emily McMillan said:

“This testimony from Virgin pilots should be a wake-up call to the airline and its owners 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.

“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.

“Virgin staff are left in limbo as CEO recruitment and an IPO remain unanswered. Workers must be prioritised and treated with respect as promised when Bain Capital took over. Aviation workers have struggled over recent years, with jobs and standards in decline. It’s time to restore good, secure jobs and stabilise the privatised, profit-mad aviation industry with independent oversight from a Safe and Secure Skies Commission.”

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