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MELBOURNE: Airport refuelers on strike. Disruptions expected.

MELBOURNE: Airport refuelers on strike. Disruptions expected.

Wednesday 8 March 2023 will see disruptions for domestic and international carriers. The River Group, a refuelling company has 40 workers who have been on strike since 4 am today. They have been asking for better pay and working conditions for some time.

River is associated with Exxon Mobile, which provides a service to companies at the airport such as Cathay Pacific, DHL, Fiji Airways, Qantas, Qatar and Singapore airlines. These are some of the airlines that face disruptions to refuelling at Melbourne airport.

The Transport Workers Union and River have been negotiating for a while but without resolution. This strike is hoped to move both organisations towards a deal.

a room with chairs and a window
Qantas Business Lounge, Melbourne [Schuetz/2PAXfly]

Minimal impact on passengers

Because airlines have been warned, it is likely in most cases they can work around this dispute. Aircraft usually run with the minimum fuel necessary to complete a flight, with a margin for safety. This, especially on domestic routes is far less than their total fuel capacity.

Today, most of the airlines affected will be planning to carry larger than usual fuel loads so that they can avoid refuelling in Melbourne. Say for instance, that a Boeing 737 is flying from Sydney to Melbourne and then on to Adelaide. Usually, it would refuel in Melbourne, but today, it will carry enough fuel out of Sydney to get it to Melbourne and Adelaide, and then refuel in the city of churches before it moves on to complete the rest of its daily schedule.

a group of airplanes parked at an airport

For long-haul international flights, this could be a bit trickier. It’s possible airlines will make temporary arrangements with other suppliers, or even send their jets somewhere else to be refuelled before picking up passengers in Melbourne.

Of course, all these arrangements are delicate and affected by many things. So if a few flights get delayed, rescheduled or even cancelled, I won’t be falling off my fuel pump.

a group of people in a line
Disruption at Melbourne Airport in 2022 [Schuetz/2PAXfly]

2PAXfly Takeout

This dispute is part of the rough and tumble of industrial relations. Businesses and unions concerned with the airline industry are having to come to terms with changed power dynamics. Unions and worker organisations have a lot more power now than they did pre-pandemic. There is a shortage of skilled workers in the industry and inflation and cost of living pressures are skyrocketing, making workers’ pay cover less and less. On the other hand, airlines and associated industries are now making money after nearly going to the wall during the height of the pandemic.

If you are travelling to or from Melbourne today, I would approach with caution. If you are flying out of Melbourne – get there early and expect delays. If you are flying into Melbourne, then again, prepare for delays, potential airport chaos, and possibly disrupted transfer times.

Take a deep breath.

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