Regional Express pilots are threatening a four-hour stoppage on Monday morning that could ground flights across regional Australia if they cannot reach a deal with the airline to limit overnights away from home.
Regional residents, business travellers, government officials and medical professionals are among those that could be affected by the proposed stoppage between 5am and 9am if a deal between the company and the pilots is not reached at a meeting on Friday.
Rex is the monopoly carrier on many of its routes across NSW, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania, limiting the ability of affected customers to book on other carriers.
Rex pilots will also refuse to fly any aircraft with a non-critical defect where maintenance can normally be deferred on Monday, although the impact could be limited if engineers fix the defects in the meantime. A Rex spokeswoman said the company was aware of the planned stoppage and contingency plans had been organised to minimise the impact of the action on passengers if it went ahead.
Rex pilots have been taking sporadic industrial action this month as part of an attempt to limit the amount of nights they spend away from home. Rex pilots have traditionally accepted lower salaries than the industry standard in return for coming home each night, but now some are spending up to five nights away at a time due to a mismatch of where pilots live relative to the routes.
The increase in nights away has come as the carrier has undertaken a big expansion in Queensland and is about to launch its first flights in Western Australia next month. Rex has around 260 pilots, and the vast majority are members of the Australian Federation of Air Pilots (AFAP) union.
AFAP executive director Simon Lutton said the pilots had faced incredibly difficulty in getting the airline to take their concerns seriously.
"Members have been left with little choice but to exercise their right to take industrial action," he said. "If we thought another option was available to us, we would take it."
An enterprise bargaining agreement expired 18 months ago and no agreement has yet been reached despite two years of negotiations. Pilots in November voted in favour of various forms of protected industrial action as a result.
AFAP this month applied for the assistance of the Fair Work Commission to progress negotiations and a fourth conciliation conference is scheduled for Friday. If a deal is reach, the planned stoppage on Monday will be cancelled.
"We understand that some time away from home is part of the job, we are simply seeking to set limits to give pilots some guarantee of work/life balance," Mr Lutton said. "Our proposals still give the company flexibility to roster multiple overnight trips, just not the complete free reign they seem to want."
AFAP industrial/legal officer James Lauchland said the union was confident that if the stoppage did proceed on Monday, a "strong number" of pilots would participant.
"This isn't something we take lightly," he said of the stoppage. "It was a big decision."