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Richmond RAAF engineers reject unusual back pay offer: Boots or bucks?

Jul 18, 2023

Aircraft engineers at Richmond’s RAAF Base are standing their ground in an ongoing dispute with Airbus Australia Pacific over pay and conditions. In an unusual twist, the company has requested the highly skilled engineers to trade their work boots for back pay, leaving the workforce shocked and dismayed.

This peculiar saga began in May when Airbus offered the engineers a pay rise, but with a bizarre catch – they were asked to accept a pair of pants in lieu of a salary increase. 

Engineers at RAAF Richmond were asked to accept a pair of pants in lieu of a salary increase.

Now, with negotiations still at a standstill, the company has upped the ante by attempting to strip away another vital aspect of the engineers’ work attire – their boots. The demand has left the engineers and their union, the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU), flabbergasted, arguing the company is more focused on clothing than fair compensation.

Tony Callinan, the AWU NSW Branch Secretary, expressed his astonishment at the company’s fixation on clothing, stating, “Usually in negotiations, we talk about annual pay rises, overtime arrangements, and the like. I’ve never seen a company so obsessed with clothing, offering pants one minute, asking workers to give up boots the next.”

The dispute centres around the company’s initial offer of a pay raise of 7.5% spread over three years, which was unanimously rejected by the engineers in December the previous year. Even a slightly improved offer was turned down in a vote conducted in June.

Recently, the company put forth a new proposal to increase the pay offer but on the condition that engineers relinquish their boots and their first aid allowance. The first aid allowance is a critical incentive for those qualified in first aid to act as first responders during workplace emergencies.

“Asking workers to trade away an entitlement that encourages a positive safety culture shows the type of disregard Airbus Australia Pacific has for their workforce,” Callinan said.

Richmond’s RAAF engineers are standing their ground in an ongoing dispute with Airbus Australia Pacific over pay and conditions

Adding to the workers’ frustration, back pay, a standard practice in industrial disputes when negotiations extend beyond the limits of a previous agreement, has also been withheld unless they comply with the company’s demands.

In response to the ongoing stalemate, workers have resorted to limited industrial action, prompting Airbus to lock them out, further escalating tensions at the RAAF Base.

The situation has drawn attention to the disparities in pay between Airbus engineers at different RAAF bases. Colleagues in Brisbane, Oakey, Townsville, Darwin, and Holsworthy (Sydney) receive higher pay than their counterparts at Richmond.

The aircraft engineers maintain the Australian Armed Force’s fleet of C-130 Hercules heavy lift aircraft, which serve as the workhorse of the Australian military, transporting troops and cargo worldwide.

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