FIFO workers could be stranded

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Pilots belonging to the Transport Workers Union and the Australian Federation of Air Pilots have endorsed work bans and stoppages as a pay dispute against Cobham Aviation Services intensifies.

Cobham is contracted by QantasLink to run most of its remote services in WA, the Northern Territory and northern Queensland, and if the strike goes ahead it could take place across the three regions.

TWU spokesman Rick Burton told the West Australian that the union had not yet decided when to call the strike, and would continue negotiating with Cobham.

“The mining companies should get the Greyhounds (coach services) ready,” Burton said. “This is definitely not an idle threat.”

Burton claimed Cobham pilots flew nearly three-quarters of all passengers to and from WA's regional areas, and he believed it unlikely smaller operators such as SkyWest and Skipper's Aviation would be able to cover the service for delayed passengers.

QantasLink flies to the major resources centres Karratha, Newman, Paraburdoo, Port Hedland and Kalgoorlie.

A spokesman for Cobham would not reveal whether it had a contingency plan in the event of a strike. "We remain committed to the bargaining process and believe that industrial action being initiated while discussions are ongoing would be unreasonable and without justification," he said. "We wish to remain engaged and work toward a constructive and mutually acceptable solution and do not see how protected industrial action is warranted or assists the process."

The major sticking point, the union said, is the rate for a position known as first officers, who earn half that of the captain's rate.

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