23/07/2009 - 00:00

Skywest pay row escalates

23/07/2009 - 00:00

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A LONG-RUNNING pilot pay dispute at Perth-based Skywest Airlines threatens to escalate into industrial action, as strained negotiations continue this week.

A LONG-RUNNING pilot pay dispute at Perth-based Skywest Airlines threatens to escalate into industrial action, as strained negotiations continue this week.

Transport Workers Union organiser Rick Burton said negotiations had dragged on for eight months.

"We're to the point if we don't get something positive then our membership will move towards industrial action," Mr Burton said.

"The planes won't be flying. If you are going to take action you don't pussy foot around."

Talks have centred on pilot pay rates, with the TWU arguing Skywest negotiators had demanded unreasonable "trade-offs" - an unfavourable re-arrangement of pilot rosters - in exchange for small annual pay rises.

The TWU would need to argue its case in the Industrial Relations Commission to hold a secret ballot to approve industrial action, should mid-week talks break down. Almost all of Skywest's 107 pilots are TWU members.

The regional air carrier is listed on the Alternative Investment Market of the London Stock Exchange, and is controlled by Singapore-based investment company Captive Vision Capital.

CVC managing director, Perth-born Jeff Chatfield, is the Skywest chairman.

In a written statement to WA Business News, Skywest management said it would negotiate in good faith and looked forward to finalising negotiations imminently.

"In the current climate, we aim to remain commercially competitive, maintain high-quality service and continue to take the interests of our employees into account," the statement says.

Airlines around the world have had a tough year, as dwindling passenger numbers have eroded profits.

Skywest's passenger numbers dropped 10 per cent during 2008-09, although its number of charter services increased.

Last year, the airline signed a scheduled charter supply contract with Rio Tinto for flights to and from Perth to WA mine sites, and it recently accepted an offer from the state government to extend its Coastal Network Licence until June 30 2010.

Skywest won a string of resource contracts during the past couple of years, as it emerged from a troubled period of ownership problems.

The airline was sold in a bidding war after Ansett went into receivership eight years ago, before finally ending up in the hands of CVC in January 2005.

Mr Chatfield reportedly said the company was considering a dual listing in the UK and Australia. The airline believes a return to the Australian bourse may enable local shareholders to compare Skywest with other ASX-listed airline stocks and help lift liquidity in its shares.

The TWU said Skywest employees took a pay cut to keep the airline flying after the fall of Ansett, which had never been retrieved.

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