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Qantas pilots head for first strike in 45 years

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hatien


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SYDNEY (AFP) – International pilots with Australia's Qantas were Wednesday preparing to vote on whether to strike, in what would be the first industrial action by the carrier's long-haul crew in 45 years.

The pilots' union has asked the government's workplace relations tribunal, Fair Work Australia, for permission to hold a ballot of its members on taking action after failing to agree to pay and conditions with the airline.

"To say that we have not taken this action lightly would be a massive understatement; Qantas pilots have not taken industrial action since 1966," said Australian and International Pilots Association president Barry Jackson.

He said pilots were concerned about the future of the airline and their own job security, adding that the union was against any move by Qantas to send work offshore as it attempts to revive its non-performing international business.

"Simply put, we believe that when someone purchases a Qantas ticket on a Qantas flight they are entitled to a Qantas pilot in the cockpit," he said in a statement.

"Whilst our international competition flourishes, Qantas has been left to wither on the vine while management eyes low-cost expansion in Asia.

"Qantas is now left with an ageing fleet, a limited route network and costs which have been cut to the point where it is affecting the product delivered."

A Qantas spokesman said the carrier was disappointed at the move, which could see a ballot of about 1,700 long-haul pilots on what kind of industrial action should be taken. Jackson said this could include two-day stoppages.

An airline spokesman said: "We are extremely disappointed that the pilots' union are prepared to go on strike causing significant disruptions to our customers rather than engaging in sensible and reasonable negotiations."

Pilots have been negotiating new wages and conditions for more than eight months and say the issue of job security is core to their claims.

National carrier Qantas has admitted its international business is loss making and in need of a shake-up, but has refused to confirm it will build a new service out of Asia.

The airline is battling rising fuel costs, greater regional competition and a soaring Australian currency that is hurting holiday travel to long-haul destinations such as Australia.

The pilot's complaints follow threats by Qantas engineers to down tools this month after their talks on pay and conditions stalled.

The Australian Licenced Aircraft Engineers Association later called off any strikes for another four weeks due to "some fairly well-spread reliability issues with the airline at the moment."

Qantas dismissed the comment as a bargaining ploy.

In February Qantas shrugged off a safety scare involving a mid-air engine blast in one of its flagship A380 superjumbos to post a four-fold increase in half-year net profits to Aus$241 million (US$240.6 million).

No one was hurt in the November 2010 accident in which an engine exploded, although the near-disaster saw Qantas temporarily ground its giant A380s.

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