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Jetstar accused of compromising safety

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The Qantas-owned budget airline Jetstar has been accused of exploiting cabin crew and consequently compromising the safety of workers and passengers, by demanding flight attendants work 20-hour long shifts.

Jetstar cabin crew allege that there is a practice of making them fly return shifts from Sydney to Bali and back, rather than staying overnight as the pilots do as part of their industrial agreement.

According to Richard Woodward of the Australian & International Pilots Association, the cabin crews are suffering greatly from fatigue because they do not have a regulated limit on how many hours they work, particularly the foreign crews and so they are working the maximum hours.

One third of Jetstar's staff are employed overseas. Its Bangkok cabin crew are employed by a company called Tour East Thailand (TET).

It is alleged that on 22 April five Thai-based crew, exhausted from a series of international and domestic flights pulled out of a flight from Sydney to Melbourne citing fatigue. The crew were concerned that in an emergency situation they would not be able to respond appropriately. In response, the crew received a letter from their employer TET, indicating their employment was at risk should "these behaviours" be repeated in the workplace.

A flight attendant indicated that as the Asian-based crew were not unionised and were constantly threatened with the non-renewal of their contracts should they speak out, there was "an extraordinary disincentive" not to do so.

ABC's Lateline allegedly obtained a copy of the contract of employment for the Thai-based cabin crews. The contract was said to contain a clause that indicated "The planned limit and operational extensions may be extended by the employer." The contracts of Jetstar's Australian-based crews are said not to contain the clause.

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon suggested that "Not only is a clause like that unconscionable, it just seems incredibly unsafe." "How will a crew be able to cope with an emergency if they've been required to work in excess of 20 hours in just one shift? " said Mr Xenophon.

The Lateline program highlighted the further complication that despite Jetstar's CEO conceding that it was unacceptable that the crew were admonished for saying they were too tired to safely operate the flight, TET was unlikely to lose its contract with Jetstar. Qantas is said to hold a 37 per cent share in TET. Mr Xenophon suggested that consequently "Qantas has an iron grip on this company."

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) has the primary responsibility for the maintenance, enhancement and promotion of the safety of civil aviation in Australia. According to Jo-Ann Davidson, the national secretary of the Flight Attendants Association, CASA "don't regulate the duty hour limitations and rest times for cabin crew. And we've been arguing that case for a while now."

Jetstar's CEO Bruce Buchanan rebutted the fatigue claims and raised credibility issues with the information provided by Mr Woodward and Mr Xenophon. Despite this, in an interview on ABC's AM program this morning Mr Buchanan indicated that Jetstar had spoken with TET and said to it that it "may be acceptable to other airlines where you chastise and intimidate" cabin crew but "that's just not part of the standards of the Qantas Group and we find it unacceptable that you've issued these letters."

"We encourage all our crew to, if they feel fatigued not to operate any duty because we are in an industry where disruptions happen and we've got to deal with the day to day things that go on in the airline business," said Mr Buchanan.

According to Mr Buchanan, the 5 cabin crew members involved had his guarantee that they "should feel absolutely confident that if they have any concern whatsoever, you know they can write to me."

The transcript of the Lateline program and Jetstar's statement can be read by following the link provided: www.abc.net.au/news/2011-07-27/jetstar-accused-of-exploiting-cabin-crew/2813208.

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