26 June 2022

Potential disruptions at regional airports as pilots vote for industrial action

| Claire Fenwicke
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Rex pilots voted to take protected industrial action after failed pay rise negotiations. Photo: AFAP.

Up to 90 per cent of Regional Express flights could face disruptions after a majority of pilots voted to take protected industrial action.

More than 250 of the approximately 280 commercial pilots employed by Rex are represented by the Australian Federation of Air Pilots (AFAP). The union said most of them “voted overwhelmingly in favour” of action following a week-long ballot.

“Unfortunately Rex pilots have been attempting to negotiate a new Enterprise Agreement since early 2018,” an AFAP statement said.

“AFAP members employed by Rex as Saab turboprop pilots are disappointed that negotiations over a new enterprise agreement have not progressed satisfactorily with that company over four years.”

Eight forms of industrial action were voted on, with all of them receiving more than 90 per cent support.

However only three would be acted upon – for now.

AFAP said union members would not wear some or all of their uniform and also wear “non-uniform items”.

“In addition to action concerning the wearing of uniforms, pilots will adopt a ban on loading extra fuel prior to flights, where the primary purpose for loading the extra fuel is to negate the need to refuel at the destination airport,” it said.

‘Tankering’ is another word given to the practice of loading extra fuel for flights.

Region Media contacted Rex for comment on the industrial action and how it could impact customers.

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In a previous statement earlier this month Rex deputy chairman John Sharp said it was “beyond belief” AFAP had rejected a pay rise offer, which Rex claimed was “substantially better” than the one the union accepted from QantasLink in late 2021.

“Just last September, the AFAP agreed to a two per cent pay rise in 2021 and 2022 for QantasLink pilots, saying ‘we are pleased to have arrived at a pragmatic outcome for the QantasLink pilot group’,” he said.

“Rex on the other hand has offered its Saab pilots a 5.1 per cent pay rise from 1 July 2022, plus significant catch-up payments worth another 8 per cent once the business is profitable again.”

Mr Sharp accused the union of a “double standard” that showed it was more interested in pursuing its own agenda than protecting its members’ interests.

“Rex is the only airline that has not retrenched any of its pilots and has stood by them through the difficult COVID years,” he said.

“We believe they will stand by the company during this period where the recovery is nascent and the company is still fragile.”

Rex’s current regional flying is about 90 per cent of pre-COVID levels, with passenger numbers also at about 90 per cent of those levels.

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Earlier this month Rex announced the closure of half a dozen routes and alluded others were under review.

This included the Sydney to Cooma route, which will finish on 27 June.

Rex general manager of network strategy Warrick Lodge said the regional city was chosen from the “collateral damage” of Qantas moving into that airspace.

“Qantas sees fit to want to enter [the Sydney to Cooma route] even though this route had only 2000 passengers in the last 12 months,” he said.

However 11 regional cities in NSW, Victoria and South Australia will have their weekday return services increased from 4 July.

This included an increase in the Sydney to Merimbula/Moruya route by 15 per cent.

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