Rescue 'copter crews seek pay rise
By EMMA CORNFORD
WESTPAC Rescue Helicopter pilots and crew in the Northern region are fighting for a pay rise to bring them into step with their counterparts in the Hunter and Southern regions of the State.
According to the Australian Workers' Union (AWU), they are paid almost 30 per cent less than pilots and crews in the other regions.
They have been trying to negotiate a deal since June and may see some resolution on Friday, when solicitors representing the service meet to negotiate a pay deal in Lismore.
AWU Far North Coast regional organiser David Lyons said the pilots and crew in the region were being seriously undervalued, but a 25 to 30 per cent rise had so far been rejected by the rescue service organisation.
According to Mr Lyons, the reason given for the rejection was that it 'cost less' for crews to live in the Northern region than it did for crews in the Hunter region, which covers Newcastle and Tamworth, and the Southern region which covers Sydney and Wollongong.
"Our members are simply seeking equality with other regions ... and we are coming up with some resistance to that by the rescue service organisation," he said.
"It's a dangerous occupation they're in and they supply a valuable service to the community ... and our people are being treated in a second-class fashion."
Northern region pilots and crew were offered a five per cent pay rise in January but said it was inadequate, considering their working hours and conditions.
"They are at work or on stand-by 112 hours a week, which is a huge commitment," Mr Lyons said.
"Obviously that's not all flight time ... but it means they are on call so they can't be more than one hour from the base and they cannot have any alcohol or anything like that ... and I doubt that's a commitment many other members of the community have," Mr Lyons said.
The Westpac Helicopter Service management had no comment yesterday, saying only that it was 'currently in negotiations'.
While a strike is unlikely, the Industrial Relations Commission has been brought into the dispute to act as a mediator between the two parties and has set three dates for contract negotiations.
"The only reason the service flies is to rescue people or transfer patients in a critical condition from one hospital to another ... so our members just don't see a strike as an option," Mr Lyons said.
"It won't further their personal issues by putting the lives of people at risk and they are far too dedicated to do that."