Jetstar denies it is exploiting Thai cabin crew

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Union outrage is mounting and a petition is circulating following allegations that Jetstar cabin crew from Thailand are working on domestic flights in Australia for base rates of just AUD 100 a week.

The ABC 7.30 Report also said Thai-based cabin crew are flying popular holiday routes on shifts lasting up to 20 hours.

Jetstar has hit back at the claims with a detailed response, which is printed at the end of this.

The ABC program spoke to a former Thai-based flight attendant, who said until he quit Jetstar two weeks earlier, he often flew between Bali and Australia and could be be rostered up to 17 hours and work up to 20 hours. He said annual leave was banned for the first year of work and Thai attendants struggled to feed themselves on the amount they were paid.

The allegations raise safety concerns over fatigue, given that crew are meant to be fit and ready at all times to help passengers in any emergency.

The Transport Workers’ Union has stepped in, demanding that the Federal Government “immediately address the safety breaches and exploitation occurring”.

The TWU claims safety is being compromised, as the overseas crew are not trained to carry out basic functions such as boarding passengers for a flight.

“The Federal Government is allowing companies to use our immigration and workplace laws to exploit untrained overseas crew,” TWU national secretary Michael Kaine declared.

“This issue was flagged years ago but instead of addressing it the Government has allowed it to continue and is ignoring the potential catastrophic consequences if something were to go wrong during a flight.

“Passengers travelling in Australia have the right to have trust and confidence in crew on a flight that they can deal with any situation that arises. Employing untrained overseas crew who are on vastly lower rates and are potentially chronically fatigued compromises that trust severely.”

Jetstar has allegedly told overseas crew to “politely decline” tasks that they are untrained to perform on domestic flights, according to the TWU.

In 2014 the Federal Court said the Fair Work Act as it stood did not cover overseas cabin crew, in a case taken by the Fair Work Ombudsman. In 2015 the Federal Government ruled Australian airlines could employ overseas cabin crew on two internal flights in Australia.

“The Federal Government likes to talk tough about aviation security but this really rings hollow,” Kaine commented.

“Cabin crew are boarding flights in Australia with no clue of the technological system that approves their boarding pass, no idea of the items or baggage that are banned from flights or whether an aggressive or intoxicated passenger is fit to fly or not. This is simply not good enough.

“The Government has allowed companies to game the system and compromise safety in our skies.

“We see it with aviation ground services company Aerocare, where staff are forced to sleep at the airports and work while chronically fatigued because of low rates and horrendous split shifts. We are now seeing it with Jetstar employing exploit crew. We are demanding an end to the race to the bottom in aviation.”

In a written response, Jetstar said the ABC program had “made a lot of claims without much context.

“The reporting on salary figures and length of shifts is misleading, and it’s simply wrong to say we operate overseas crew on domestic rosters,” a spokesperson said.

“They [the ABC] have overlooked standard industry practice around payment of allowances and rostering of crew to deliver a headline.”

The rest of Jetstar’s response was delivered in a question and answer format, thus:

Is it true that you are only paying your Thai based crew $100 a week?

  • This is a really misleading claim. The figure cited by 730 is based on zero flying hours and is not reflective of the average weekly earnings of our Thai based crew, which is AUD 650.
  • Cabin crew salaries are made up of a base wage plus flying hours and other allowances. This is common to airlines around the world.

The ABC says Thai crews can be rostered up to 17 hours, which can be extended up to 20 hours. They say that leaves them fatigued and not physically fit in case of emergency. How safe is this roster?

  • We take all fatigue reports extremely seriously and have strict fatigue management processes in place, which include rostering limitations, to ensure adequate rest periods.
  • All our crew, including Australian-based crew, have an operating limit 14 hours duty (including two hours to sign on/sign off).
  • In the event of a flight delay, this can be extended to a maximum of 17 operating hours.

Are Thai based crew operating domestic Jetstar flights?

  • No. The only time overseas-based crew operate between two Australian domestic cities is on a ‘tag flight’, which is an industry term used to describe an international flight that connects in more than one domestic city, such as Adelaide-Darwin-Denpasar. The pilots, cabin crew and the aircraft operate all of these sectors.
  • Overseas based crew operating tag flights complies with Australia’s employment law and Australian visa conditions
  • Many airlines operate tag flights, they are common industry practice worldwide.
  • Approximately 0.5% of Jetstar’s flights are tag flights.

The ABC is reporting that Thai based crew are not trained to the same safety standards as Australian crew – is that correct?

  • All our crew, regardless of where they are based, undertake exactly the same onboard training, attend the same Ground School and recurrent training, and undertake the same onboard procedures.
  • This includes crew based in Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and Singapore.

Written by Peter Needham