Now that Kevin Rudd’s ‘gone down the mines’ over AWAs, and come back equivocal, will he brave the cockpits of Jetstar and Virgin Blue?

Jetstar’s weekend announcement killing off EBAs (our simple English translation of ‘new workplace arrangements for pilot and engineer recruits’) means Labor would have to shut down the airlines as well as the mines in a fantasy world of re-regulated employment conditions.

For those sitting in terminals sorting out cancelled flights, this is the bare bones state of play today at the three main airlines.

VIRGIN BLUE: The latest EBA offer is for more ‘lifestyle’, but less money (after likely overtime is counted) than management’s previously rejected offer and is certain to fail, because it looks as though it is meant to. After that it will roll out the real deal, which will be more money and a promise to try harder to avoid what pilots claim to be insane duty rosters that have left so many fatigued that they are unable to fly, adding to the carrier’s scheduling woes.

JETSTAR: Its AWAs mean more money, but no lifestyle, and will probably succeed, because it is pitching to pilots who need more of the former and have given up on the latter.

QANTAS: It is hoping most of the experienced pilots it needs to keep onside for the next two or three years ignore the excavations being softly, softly dug under its pilots association by new AWAs across its operations. But the sound of shoveling is getting louder.

A collapse in the uneasy state of Qantas labor relations could be triggered by speculated sub-contracting of services to Jetstar crews to fly Qantas full-service jets to advance its strategy of replacing all of its traditional labor arrangements with whatever management says they will be in the shortest possible interval that will not provoke damaging strikes.

None of the carriers is actively seeking an increase in the official ceiling of 900 hours of flight duty a year for pilots.

That comes through ‘workplace flexibility’ and commercial-in-confidence approval by CASA of whatever the airlines agree with their pilots, or, perhaps in the case of Qantas, its Jetstar pilots.

But all three carriers have a pilot shortage. They see a critical need to make their diminishing pilot resource fly further for less when calculated by the management metric of choice, which is cents per seat per kilometre. And before Rudd and Gillard get into office, they see one final chance to marginalise pilot unions to vanishing point.

Peter Fray

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