Thousands of airport firefighters across the country will take strike action in protest of staff shortages, leaving passenger safety to be comprised.
United Firefighters Union of Australia aviation secretary Wes Garrett said all firefighters will go on strike from 6am to 10am on Friday, December 9.
“We expect there won’t be an aircraft moving during those four hours,” he said.
The strike comes as discussions between Airservices Australia and the union have failed after 100 firefighters were cut during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“This has had a significant impact on our firefighters’ ability to provide services around the country,” Mr Garrett said.
“Each and every day there are 2500 passengers who are boarding aircraft around the country without the proper aviation firefighting coverage.”
Mr Garrett said the staffing dispute has been “a long standing issue” but despite claims from Airservices that there is no impact to safety, firefighters have decided to strike.
“That is why for aviation firefighters there is no option other than to seculate our industrial action,” he said.
“We’re calling on the federal government to help us resolve these issues with Airservices and we are hopeful we will be able to resolve these issues.”
Former fire commander Trevor Rogers said the work stoppage was not a “flippant decision”.
“Due to the reduced amount of staff we now have, the risk to the flying public has been compromised,” he said.
Mr Rogers said after working in the industry for 38 years, he knows the lack of staff comprises those on shift from doing their job “as required”.
He said “there’s every chance” understaffing could lead to passengers not getting rescued appropriately or safely during an emergency at any airport across the country.
Sub station officer Jason Cocchietto, who is based at Sydney Airport Fire Station, said before the pandemic his team was fully staffed with 17 firefighters but now that’s been reduced to 14 crew.
He said there are “multiple people doing overtime” and it worries him that if an emergency happens he might not be equipped to do his job properly because of a lack of support.
“If something happens and I couldn’t save someone, that’s something I’ll have to live with for the rest of my life,” he said.
It comes as Qantas domestic flight crews voted to hold a strike leading up to Christmas. Nearly all of the 1200 cabin crew employees voted in favour of the protected industrial action last week as they demand better pay and better working conditions.
All of the Qantas domestic flight crews will walk off the job for 24 hours some time in the coming month, which could cause travel chaos over the busy holiday season.
Flight Attendants Association of Australia (FAAA) vice-president Angela McManus said the action was a “last resort” after ongoing negotiations with Qantas stalled.
A Qantas spokesperson said the company had proposed 3 per cent annual pay rises and access to more than $7000 in bonuses for flight crew staff.
“This is a very disappointing step by FAAA given we’re continuing to negotiate towards a new agreement,” the spokesperson said.
“They’ve said they’ll minimise the impact to customers of any industrial action and we’re urging them to stick to their word.”
FAAA federal secretary Teri O‘Toole said the proposed bonuses amounted to $11 a day over seven years for workers.
“All we are asking for is a fair deal and we are hoping that Qantas care enough about customers to bring to the table a fair and reasonable deal,” she said.
“I can tell you our flight attendants do not want people to be disrupted at Christmas.”
Qantas said the proposed shift changes were in line with the national standard for domestic airlines and overtime of up to 300 per cent would be paid for staff working more than their rostered hours.
The airline’s proposed agreement would extend shifts from 9.5 hours to 12 hours and reduce rest periods to 10 hours, which the union worries could increase fatigue.
“We want to keep doing the job we love, but we want to do it safely and so we’re not fatigued,” Ms McManus said.
The union will have four weeks to action their first strike, but it has not yet allocated a date.
The vote to strike comes after Qantas raised its profit forecast to $1.45bn for the first half of next year.