Union calls for more than flight compo to improve airline performance

Proposed legislation currently before the Senate has seen new submissions campaigning for both ends of the matter in question, as MATT LENNON investigates.

The Transport Workers Union (TWU) says the root cause behind the systematic erosion of service and safety standards in aviation over the last 15 years must be addressed before a compensation scheme is introduced for cancellations and extended delays.

In its submission to the Federal Government’s Airline Passenger Protections (Pay on Delay) Bill, which is currently before the Senate, the TWU said passenger protections can’t be delivered until ongoing workforce shortages, training and competencies are rectified.

The union blamed the “defragmentation” of the Qantas workforce which contributed to severe understaffing and decimated reliability of the sector through reduced services and more errors by an underqualified and inexperienced staff.

“Ensuring decent standards for passengers will necessitate not just provisions following delays or cancellations, but regulation to ensure aviation remains stable throughout peaks and troughs – crucially that means a robust and skilled workforce,” the TWU submission stated.

Coalition Senators Bridget McKenzie and Dean Smith are the driving forces behind the Bill, which is open for public and industry submissions until 30 August, before an inquiry being conducted by the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee tables its report on 18 November.

If passed, the Pay on Delay Bill would see the creation of an Aviation Code of Conduct, under which airlines would be forced to provide minimum compensation to travellers in the event of a flight cancellation or major delay.

These standards could include food, water, accommodation and financial compensation for affected travellers.

In many cases, the first three are already provided by airlines depending on the circumstances behind the delay and how long passengers must wait before they can be reaccommodated on another flight.

The Board of Airline Representatives Australia (BARA) said in a separate submission the government’s push for a mandatory compensation scheme appeared to be driven more by a desire “to pick up on a populist agenda”.

BARA Executive Director Stephen Pearse said the introduction of this Bill was based on customer service statistics framed against the havoc of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pearse said no airlines shied away from the fact they struggled to meet operational reliability generated by the huge demand from people wishing to travel once domestic and national restrictions were lifted following the pandemic.

He added a compensation scheme would not solve the problem at hand – as demonstrated by similar schemes introduced in the UK with UK261 and EU261 in Europe – but would just push airfares higher.

“All the BARA members make huge efforts to look after their customers,” Pearse told travelBulletin.

“When there are disruptions, which are inevitable, they do what they can to recompense and look after those passengers and get them on their way again as soon as possible,” he added.

BARA has proposed greater transparency and communication between airlines and customers and for the government to establish a cross-industry taskforce to develop a model of shared accountability across aviation.

The organisation also called for a modernisation of the Airline Customer Advocate complaints resolution system or for the collaborative design of an aviation industry ombudsman.

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