Warning for Aussie travellers over Christmas holidays: 'Lives at risk'

Allowing airport firefighters to strike over Christmas could "put travellers' lives at risk" according to the country’s air navigation service provider.

After a 12-month deadlock with Airservices Australia over staffing levels and pay, members of the United Firefighters Union of Australia's Aviation Branch voted earlier this month in favour of taking two to 12-hour strikes.

But with a December 2 deadline to take industrial action, union officials applied to the Fair Work Commission last week for more time to strike.

They’ve now been granted a 30-day extension, giving the country’s 776 airport firefighters the right to stop work across the hectic holiday period.

The United Firefighters Union members.
The United Firefighters Union is calling for a pay rise for the country's 775 airport firefighters. Source: United Firefighters Union

'Reckless' decision to strike before New Year

Airservices Australia says any decision by airport firefighters to strike at Christmas would be "reckless" and a "risk to Australian aviation".

"In addition, it will have adverse economic impacts on many industries including tourism and retail, and has the potential to put travellers' lives at risk," a spokesperson said in a statement to Yahoo News Australia.

If the firefighters strike, it could reportedly impact the ability of some international flights to land, causing chaos during the busy period.

Queues of people are seen at the Virgin and Jetstar departure terminal at Sydney Domestic Airport in Sydney, Thursday, September 22, 2022. Source: AAP
The strike could reportedly impact the ability of some international flights to land, causing chaos during the busy period. Source: AAP

The United Firefighters Union is calling for a 15.5 per cent pay rise over three years for its staff, as reported by The Australian, four per cent more than what Airservices Australia is offering. The Union also claims airports are 74 workers under what is needed to provide adequate protection for passengers.

"Airservices has failed to meet regulatory standards and for the first time in history there are category non-compliance incidents happening daily," secretary of the United Firefighters Union's aviation branch, Wesley Garrett, told the Sydney Morning Herald on Wednesday.

"Forget about 'he said, she said.' Just look at the data which shows we're having compliance incidents for the first time in history."

An aviation fire rescue truck.
Airservices Australia says the strike action is dangerous and unnecessary. Source: United Firefighters Union

But Airservices Australia says the union’s staffing and redundancy claims are "misleading" and "designed to justify unnecessary industrial action to support an excessive wage claim."

"Importantly, there is no shortage of aviation rescue firefighters in Airservices’ Aviation Rescue Fire Fighter Service at Sydney or any other location," the spokesperson said.

Further chaos for travel industry

Industrial action during one of the busiest times of the year for travel could cause significant delays and cancellations to an industry that has already been suffering under the strain of a post-pandemic landscape.

Airline services and airports around the world are continuing to face chaos as they deal with severe staff shortages and an increased demand for services as people return to travelling following Covid-19.

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