Cyclone prompts pilots to jettison four-day strike

Aaron Bunch |

A planned pilot strike has been called off due to the potential need for cyclone evacuations in WA.
A planned pilot strike has been called off due to the potential need for cyclone evacuations in WA.

Industrial action by pilots in Western Australia has been called off because they might needed for evacuation flights as a cyclone threat looms large.

More than 200 Network Aviation and QantasLink pilots were set to walk off the job on Thursday for four days over a long-running pay dispute.

But the strike at the Qantas subsidiary was cancelled on Wednesday after the state’s Industrial Relations Minister Simone McGurk called the Australian Federation of Air Pilots and asked them to stay at work.

“Given the risk posed by ex-tropical cyclone Lincoln in northwest WA, the (federation) has suspended the protected industrial action planned for Thursday to Sunday to enable evacuation flights to potentially take place if needed,” a union spokeswoman said.

WA minister Simone McGurk
Simone McGurk says workers and residents might need to be evacuated by plane. (Richard Wainwright/AAP PHOTOS)

Senior industrial officer Chris Aikens said the pilots did not want to place the public at risk.

“The (federation) will monitor the situation regarding any possible future action once the current threat has passed,” he said.

Lincoln crossed the Northern Territory coast late last week as a category one tropical cyclone from the Gulf of Carpentaria before moving inland across the Top End and into WA as a storm.

It tracked west-northwest across the Kimberley and moved off the coast on Wednesday, the Bureau of Meteorology noted.

But it’s expected to gather strength and move down the Pilbara coast and could redevelop into a tropical cyclone and make landfall as a category two system near Exmouth on Saturday.

Ms McGurk said workers and residents may need to be evacuated and Network Aviation was likely to be called on to handle the flights.

“While I respect the right of the union to take protected industrial action, given these unique circumstances, I expressed my view that a pause in industrial action would be welcomed,” she said.

Qantas Group said it would contact customers whose flights for Thursday were rescheduled because of the strike if any changes are made.

The ex-tropical cyclone moving across northern Australia on Saturday.
This image shows the ex-tropical cyclone moving across northern Australia on Saturday. (HANDOUT/BUREAU OF METEOROLOGY)

It said there were no changes to the scheduled flights on Friday or the weekend.  

Network Aviation pilots have already walked off the job over their wages battle three times in recent months, forcing the airline to cancel and reschedule dozens of flights, which has impacted thousands of regional airline passengers and fly-in, fly-out workers.

The federation has accused Qantas Group of refusing to negotiate and taking previously agreed terms off the bargaining table.

It said Network Aviation pilots were fed up with being treated as second-class citizens by Qantas Group and don’t get the same pay conditions as other pilots employed by the airline despite doing the same job.

Qantas has denied this adding it has not walked away and has been negotiating with the pilots’ union for 18 months.

The airline said it had made three wage offers, including pay increases of more than 25 per cent, plus yearly three per cent increases, new allowances and greater roster protections.

The union has rejected this arguing the 25 per cent offer was only made to some pilots who were being paid below the award rate, and the increases most pilots would receive under the proposed deals would not keep up with inflation.

A Fair Work Commission hearing has been scheduled for March 14 and 15 to determine whether the parties have reached a stage where an outcome cannot be negotiated.