Jetstar has been struggling all morning to reconcile its claims that pilots are encouraged to raise safety issues after sacking a first officer, Joe Eakins, who did just that, in an opinion piece published by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald in October.

According to Jetstar’s CEO for Australia and New Zealand, David Hall, “We have never sacked nor would we ever take disciplinary action against anybody raising issues around safety,” he said, while defending its dismissal of Eakins  last Thursday, on the grounds that his employment agreement had a confidentiality clause that obliged him not to “put in the public domain any information that they become privy to as part of their employment”.

Very Catch-22.

Hall said Eakins was also obliged  “… to actively promote and encourage the Jetstar brand and not to raise issues that could be in any way detrimental”.

Even more Catch-22.

In short, Eakins was encouraged to do something the company could fire him for doing, since it would be hard not to raise a host of matters concerning pilot training arrangements at Jetstar without being detrimental to companies investment in under-skilled pilot recruiting practices recently outlawed in the United States.

Such clauses are, of course, common in employment agreements. But pilots are obliged to reveal safety concerns under Australian air transport regulations, the strengthening of which is provided before in a private member’s bill recently proposed by independent South Australian senator Nick Xenophon.

That bill will come parliament some time next year, after another Xenophon initiative, a Senate Inquiry into pilot training and safety standards in Australia.  It has its first hearings in Sydney next Wednesday, at which Jetstar is already in its sights as a serial offender for not reporting what are defined in the Air Transport legislation as “reportable” safety related occurrences, especially one involving two Jetstar pilots who screwed up an approach to Melbourne Airport in fog in July 2007.

The Eakins case is complicated by its industrial linkage. He belongs to the  Australian and International Pilots Association,  which represents most unionised Qantas pilots, but has only minority status in covering Jetstar’s unionised pilots, most of whom belong to the Australian Federation of Air Pilots.

The Qantas based union is locked in a bitter struggle with Qantas over its claimed determination to deliberately gut the full service product, and its workplace standards, to support a takeover of pay and conditions by the Jetstar standards.

This was a point driven home by Eakins in his offending article. Qantas is avoiding the limitations of the Qantas Sale Act by offshoring Jetstar activity to Asia, and even basing Australian registered jets in Singapore to be flown by cheaper pilots, while recruiting discount foreign pilots to take domestic contracts that would undermine the Ts and Cs of Jetstar’s  domestic pilots.

In short, Eakins was publicly getting between the managements  of Qantas/Jetstar and big dollars. A dangerous place to be.

And he was also playing the safety card, which says that without more pay, pilots are less safe.  That is always going to be controversial, yet there is a body, (but so far no bodies) of evidence to supports union criticism of the de-skilling of pilots by the third party training courses Jetstar has relied upon in recent years.

These arrangements are under the microscope in the terms of the Senate inquiry, by coincidence coming after the QF32 A380 incident in which old school, high cost, experienced Qantas pilots saved a stricken jet from a crash.

And Eakins is gone. Expelled from the ranks of “Yes” pilots that Jetstar tolerates, provided they offer to work for even less money, or get replaced by cheaper foreign pilots even on routes between Australian cities.