Last night’s ABC TV Lateline investigation of Jetstar labor arrangements on flights operating on both international and domestic ‘tag’ services raised some severe safety concerns for Australian travellers.
While some of those concerns reflect testimony taken by the recent Senate inquiry into pilot training and airline safety in Australia, Lateline also uncovered additional material.
It highlighted an incident on April 22 this year in which five Thai-based crew – exhausted from a series of international and domestic flights – pulled out of a flight from Sydney to Melbourne, complaining of fatigue.
They were concerned they would not be able to deal with an emergency situation should it arise.
In response they got this letter from their employer Tour East Thailand threatening them with the sack.
“Whilst illness, etc is accepted by your employer, poor time management is not…. TET requires from you an undertaking that you will not repeat these behaviours in the workplace,” the letter said.
The letter castigated the crew members for causing damage to the reputation of their employer.
However the Thai crews, required to work for 20 hours in one shift on Jetstar flights, including sectors within Australia, were also liable to repay Tour East Thailand up to four and a half months of their basic monthly pay of $258 if they resigned or were dismissed by their employer before completing a work contract.
Tour East Thailand is 37% owned by Qantas, which owns Jetstar.
The Lateline investigation found that while the Thai cabin crew arrangement provided for shifts of up to 20 hours it included an additional clause that in fact allowed staff to be rostered on duty indefinitely.
Senator Nick Xenophon, who instigated the Senate inquiry, told Lateline “Not only is a clause like that unconscionable; it just seems incredibly unsafe.
“How will a crew be able to cope with an emergency if they’ve been required to work in excess of 20 hours in just one shift – it’s something that doesn’t apply to Australian cabin crew for good reason and it shouldn’t apply to foreign-based cabin crew who are doing work here in Australia.”
Jetstar responded with a written statement which said in part:
“Jetstar has clearly established duty limitations that are consistently applied regardless of where our cabin crew are based.
“Safety is our number one priority and we have an open culture of reporting issues.
“If a member of our crew is too fatigued, then they should not operate the flight, and we communicate this openly.”
In a set of responses to the Lateline program posted on the ABC website, Jetstar defends the bonding of foreign cabin attendants performing work at cut price rates within Australia. It said:
“Some of our international cabin crew are required to pay a bond as a compensation for investment in training, if a cabin crew member leaves within two years of employment.
“This is a locally based arrangement that reflects the local market conditions.”
While Lateline dealt with cabin crew pay and fatigue issues, the Uncle Tom’s Cabin approach to labor relations was also attempted in relation to Australian pilot contracts earlier this year in which those taking a rostered day off required company approval to travel beyond their home areas in case they needed to recalled for duty.
This home detention plan for Jetstar pilots in Australia has not been resolved.
Nor has revelations in the Senate inquiry that Jetstar flight attendants hired in Asia and working on Australian routes had not been properly trained in medical emergency procedures and not been proficient in English.
The situation in the inquiry is that Jetstar made claims about the training standards of both its pilots and cabin crew that were repudiated by the evidence given by Jetstar employees.
There are other safety and labor equity considerations with Jetstar. The Qantas subsidiary has already proposed arrangements in which Australian and Asia based pilots can be shuffled around its franchises according to seasonal demand, and will continue to be paid under the labor arrangements of the country in which they are hired. Meaning Jetstar can rotate cheaper Asia trained and based pilots through purely domestic Australian services to reduce Australian labor costs.
Part of the major Qantas restructuring to be announced on August 24 involves plans to create further offshore Qantas entities to operate both Jetstar and full service Qantas type services into and out of Australia, effectively replacing Australian pilots and their terms and conditions with those of other countries.