Jetstar Criticised For Using Foreign Cabin Crew On Domestic Australian Flights

Filed Under: Other Airlines

Jetstar (Australia) operates an impressive international network to popular Asian/US tourist destinations from Australia, such as Bali, Phuket, Honolulu, Bangkok and Tokyo.

They’re able to offer very cheap flights because they have a low cost base. One of the reasons for this is because of how they recruit and roster their cabin crew.

Jetstar cabin crew

If you’ve taken one of these flights to or from Australia, you’ve probably noticed that the crew is likely almost entirely Asian, regardless of the international destination you are flying to. The flights I have taken have usually been crewed by Thai or Indonesian crews, with perhaps one Australian purser to provide flight announcements and provide a sense of familiarity for Australian passengers on an Australian airline.

I’ve found these Asian crews to always provide good service, work hard and have a good grasp of English.

The reason Jetstar does this is because Asian based crews are much cheaper to employ than Australian based crews, who are generally paid quite well and heavily unionised. Jetstar is supposed to only use foreign based crews on international flights, not domestic flights. While its not unusual for European airlines to have crews based in, say, Poland working a France to Germany flight, given how close these countries are and how many countries crews could potentially work flights to in a single day, it would be more unusual for these foreign crews to work domestic flights.

Qantas adopts a similar practice for its London flights – most cabin crew are based in London rather than Australia, for the simple fact that Qantas can pay them less.

Despite the ethical considerations, Jetstar is legally allowed to pay their cabin crews less and provide them with different (usually lesser) working rights, where those crews are based in countries with lower wages and different labour laws.

So how does a Thai based crew member end up operating a flight from Sydney to Honolulu?

Unusual crew rosters

Jetstar roster these foreign crews on insanely long swinging rosters, where they will start from their home airport (such as Bangkok), then operate a flight to Australia and they then will operate a flight on to another destination (say Tokyo), and then back to Australia and then on to, say Honolulu and then back to Australia and then a Bali return, and then eventually back to Bangkok.

These rosters can last two weeks or more, and the crew work very long hours because they are contracted under laws of a country that does not have the same sort of unionised workers rights as Australia does. I have heard reports that Asian crews on the Sydney to Bali flights work an immediate same day return back to Sydney (or Melbourne or Brisbane), and the total time rostered on is something like 15 hours.

Jetstar foreign-based crew have disclosed to Australian media that shifts can actually stretch up to 20 hours, which naturally leads to fatigue, enormous staff turnover and potentially safety risks.

That is insane.

Financial problems

While Jetstar argues that, compared with average wages in their home countries, their Asian cabin crew are paid extremely well, a problem arises with layovers for these crew, particularly in Australia. Crew will often spend fairly long slip times (the time in between international flights at a destination that is not their home port) in cities like Sydney, which are extremely expensive to spend time in.

While Jetstar provides their accommodation and an allowance for food, drinks and activities, the foreign crews are given a much lower allowance than their Australian colleagues, and struggle to earn a decent living the more time they are forced to spend in cities like Sydney (Tokyo and Honolulu would also be expensive for Asian crews to spend time in).

For each 36 hours they are on the ground away from home, they are only given $60 Australian dollars to live on, which does not go far in an expensive city.

Domestic routes

Jetstar has come under fire recently for apparently rostering these foreign crew on domestic routes, which they are not legally supposed to do (Jetstar is supposed to use locally contracted crew on domestic routes, regardless of their background).

Jetstar operated a very complex network of ‘tag flights,’ where an internationally configured aircraft (with international based crew) operates a domestic route to pick up passengers before then operating an international route.

I’ve flown from Melbourne to the Gold Coast to Tokyo before on Jetstar, for example. As this is a domestic route operated by a domestically registered airline (so not a fifth freedom flight), passengers can book just the domestic leg without taking the second international leg. Understandably, some passengers are surprised to board a domestic flight on an Australian airline, with an entirely foreign based crew.

Jetstar maintains that they are allowed to use foreign crews on tag flights, but it has been revealed that foreign crews were used on Adelaide to Darwin flights, which did not continue on to a foreign destination. A Jetstar pilot has lodged a formal complaint when they witnessed this as it does not comply with Jetstar’s crewing obligations under the Migration Act.

Bottom line

I’m interested to hear your thoughts on using foreign crews to save money.

If Jetstar was a Thai-based airline operating flights to Australia, their cabin crew wages and working conditions would probably be considered normal, or even generous, and in line with labour standards in Thailand.

But Jetstar is an Australian based airline operating mostly for the benefit of Australian passengers and there are strict restrictions on which crews they can use on which sectors. I would not be the least bit surprised if Jetstar has occasionally used foreign crews on non-tag domestic flights purely for convenience and financial reasons.

Do you think it is fair for an airline to use foreign based cabin crew, purely because they can pay them less and work them harder?

  1. Jetstar should pay their people properly and roster them according to Australian labour laws and aviation safety rules, both domestically and internationally. This is as bad as 7eleven rorting their staff wages.

  2. “…popular Asian tourist destinations from Australia, such as Bali, Phuket, Honolulu, Bangkok and Tokyo.”

    Is Honolulu in asia?

  3. No different than Ryanair having crews based all over Europe but working under looser Irish labour laws.

    People want cheap so this is what you get. It’s the race to the bottom further driven by corporate greed with executives making absurd salaries on the backs of their employees.

  4. $60 for 3 days in Tokyo or Sydney? That is insane. You’ll be eating Ramen Noodles at best with that.

  5. Jetstar should abide by Australian labour laws and aviation safety rules first and foremost.
    As far as salary goes, I’ve learned from my own experience that companies will always try to lowball (especially if they’ll easily find another person willing to work for that salary.) After all, both the employee and employer agreed on the salary/benefits.
    If I worked 15-20 hours straight, I’d probably just stay in my hotel room during the layover and sleep/shower and save that $60.

  6. @Rob: it’s only a difference when too much money is being made. Smaller disparity would not raise an eyebrow.

    The allowance of 60AUD is pathetic though. It has to be at the minimum 100AUD for each 24 hr.

  7. It’s a race to the bottom and we are all a part of it. We want cheap tickets and the airlines go about finding ways to do it, even if that means rostering someone to work a 20 hour shift.

  8. Jetstar paying Asian staff under Asian wages doesn’t bother me. Jetstar not giving a livable per diem to their employees concerns me somewhat. Jetstar having staff fly 15+ hour shifts, when the entire point of cabin staff is passenger safety, enfuriates me.

    The last time I flew Jetstar, I was unaware of their absurd rule on domestic flights that one can’t check in luggage until 2 hours before the flight, which meant I would have to stand around the check-in area for half an hour with my luggage. I asked their “help” desk about the policy, and commented how unusual it was, and was told by a staffer “it’s a budget airline. If you don’t like it, fly Qantas.” I never would have considered it, but with that rudeness, I went ahead and used Avios to book a Qantas flight (which got me there earlier). I didn’t get my money back but I just could not believe that incredibly poor level of customer service. And with this it seems about par for the course for their corporate ethos.

    Of course, now I know that Qantas owns Jetstar, so I think my next trip to Australia I will stick with Virgin and Tigerair.

  9. The low pay and allowances for Jetstar international flight staff is not news. The apparent rorting by the airline of tag flights is. Vote with your dollars, and like me don’t use the airline.

  10. Pardon me here.. but aren’t there rules ( from IATA or some other governing body) that dictate how long crew are supposed to work? I’d think that Crew on Thai Airways or (and esp) Air Asia X don’t work these insane 15-20 hours reported for Jetstar.

    Yes, companies are expected to deliver huge profit margins but there’re limits and if this is indeed true, then it’s pure exploitation and that doesn’t sit well with me.

    Makes me wonder; BA’s mixed fleet are reportedly paid very poorly and BA only expects them to stay only a few years at the airline….. i find it interesting that we hardly hear much about their issues.

  11. The sad fact is that the same people that will be up in arms at the way these workers are treated/paid would probably also be up in arms at Jetstar putting up their fares by twenty or thirty bucks to cover their costs if they paid them Australian market rates.

    It would be interesting to see what the average Australian would vote if given a poll on ‘increase their pay or increase your fares’.

    It’s the same in every market in the world. People are aghast at sweatshop clothing manufacturers or appalling agriculture worker rights but they want cheap clothes and food.

    We can’t have it both ways.

  12. As a Perthian I have taken a few flights on JQ (PER – DPS, PER – CNS and more) though have had average experiences so I am conflicted on flying JQ though they DEFINITELY should not be using international crew on domestic flights that’s wrong and the hours are insane which probably should be improved though more importantly they should be given more layover money (or at least the same as their counterparts) also James there is a Jetstar Australia and Jetstar Asia though both are owned by Qantas (its interesting).

  13. “..I’ve found these Asian crews to always provide good service, work hard and have a good grasp of English..”

    Good grasp of English? And because you’re as white as Tippex means your command of the English language is better than mellow yellow? You’re exactly why I’ve decided to stop vacationing in both Australia and the USA.. and why every now and then, when I absolutely have to, I have to challenge TSA or Australian Customs and explain that since some time ago, us mellow yellows have since climbed down from trees and have actually read a book or two..

    You mean you’ve never encountered caucasians with bad-to-deplorable English??

    I’ve read every one of your posts since you joined OMAAT.. I did expect more from you, James.. I now give you about as much respect as a Catholic priest in Pennsylvania..

  14. @ Ken – English fluency is a requirement for cabin crew working on an Australian airline, regardless of their background. I have a lot of respect for anyone who can speak a second or third language fluently (I can’t), and have no doubt there are ESL speakers who have better English than I do.

  15. James.. “English fluency”… again.. in Australia.. where 99% of the population does not/ cannot pronounce “Good Day” properly.. silly, no?

    Do not say you “have respect” for something or someone, and then do not be respectful in your sentence structuring.. that’s like Trump saying he’s equal with everyone..

    To be fair, I also have an issue with some upmarket sushi chefs in Japan who are happy with taking gaijin money, ¥50,000 for a dinner.. but only from gaijin that are 100% in “Japanese culture”, even when most Japanese aren’t even 90%..

    If you’re a yes, you’re a yes, and if not, you’re not.. don’t hide behind a cloak of invisibility.. and if you made a mistake, man up.. if you didn’t, stand your ground and shout to the world that you are what you are..

  16. I would prefer a Thai crew over Aussie crew any day. But the issue is 15-20 hour shift, regardless of nationality. Now the Australian regulators have to do something about this.

    This is how ‘stupid’ racism starts. You blow the hell out of context. The point is English is not their native language. That is it. No White no Black no Asian or other race. @Ken you brought up the race issue, and just to let you know you are using all the derogatory words towards Asians. You are being racist here.

  17. JEEEZ. As a white english speaking male now it must be like walking on ice. You have to check and double check every f**king word you type or say in case some sensitive soul manages to find something they deem racist in it. I feel for you!

    Ken, get OVER it. James made an observation that these Asian crews (whom he ALREADY said were based in Thailand and Indinesia – non english speaking countries) have a good command of english? In other words, english as a foreign language to them. Why the need to attack him with some nonsense making an issue out of something where there is no issue?

    Per capita, Australia has one of the highest proportion of citizens born outside the country in the world. Including MANY as you call them (though i’m sure I cannot) ‘mellow yellows’. I see an Australian with parents from Vietnam or Somalia every bit as Australian as myself (i’m mixed race – my dad is black brazillian).

    I still fail to see what the ‘mistake’ was that James made? Can you shed more light?

  18. @ken – you are aware that you’re having a go at someone else because you’ve perceived that they were generalising and then just went and did it yourself. So chill, just chill.

  19. @Ken
    Yes I have mine, you have yours, @James has his. You started all this. You can’t even shed more light for @Joao.
    You (like most racist) either use the ‘race card’ to attack or ‘personal opinion’ to retreat. Again, how ‘stupid’ racism starts.

    The difference is your opinion happens to contain derogatory words.

  20. Had @James not used the word “grasp”, it would not have set me off..

    I “didn’t start it”.. well, not in my opinion..

  21. Oh.. and it really doesn’t matter to me if another 3,000,000 people come out and defend @James.. not to me..

    Yes, it’s one little word, “grasp” of English.. that, to me, was derogatory.. and maybe only to 3 others, not 3,000,000..

  22. I’ll throw more petrol to the fire…. Ive just flied Qantas J to Bali and honestly, ive never heard more condescending comments from a flight crew… They even laughed about a woman’s jacket when storing It …. Crew were two upper upper upper middle age women :)…. I didnt like at all the level of service in Qantas: boring lounge, boring plane, boring Seat , boring food and boring crew…. And what is worse Sydney looked Also boring to me…. I left an Ibiza summer for coming around… Bad choice

  23. Grow up and come out of your hole. Now your ‘personal opinion’ retreat sounds even worse.

    @Ken – According to you
    Bill Gates is using derogatory words.

    Even Pope Francis is using derogatory words. (search ‘grasp’ inside)

  24. I am German, I think a Airline should Hire people from the country where the Airline belongs to. So a Australian Airline should hire Australian people. It is racist of Jetstar to only hire foreign stewards for some flights.

  25. Completely unsurprising from Qantas/Jetstar to try to avoid their obligations under Australian industrial relations laws. Remember this company is led by a CEO who decided to ground the entire airline, disrupting thousands of customers, rather than deal in good faith with workers’ unions.

    Sadly, exploiting foreign workers is just standard procedure for many major Australian businesses these days. Supermarkets, hospitality businesses, farmers et al. There’s no will from the government to enforce basic workers’ rights.

  26. @Ken. Australians don’t need to speak English like the Queen, nor like someone from Manchester, Liverpool or any other regional part of the UK. We have long ceased to be a British Colony and our language, like everything else has taken a separate course. That’s probably why we are the number one immigration destination for Brits…

    @James, unfortunately Ken, our Rhodes Scholar in the English Language does have a point as yes, you did (I’m sure unintentionally ) come off a little condescending which Ken has subsequently made into an art form… shall we now get on task and back to the issue.

    Shameful, that an Australian airline finds it acceptable to flout the law like that!

  27. @James, G’day mate! I meself is of Asian mix from Melbourne. I consider meself as Aussie as any other Aussies out there. English is not me first language and I speak it with a strong accent and fortunately I works for a big Australian airline. Fair Dinkum, who cares if you speak proper English or not. As long as the message gets through. No worries mate, chill on it, let it slide.

    On the note about foreign cabin crews, yes, they are allowed to do certain number of flights within domestic Australia under the umbrella of operational requirements, in which they can use foreign crew on domestic flight on a call in bases. If someone goes sick and no standby crew is available they can use them. Foreign crew are not covered under the Enterprise Bargaining Agreement. ie: Qantas/Jetstar can practically do whatever they want them under mutual agreement with the staff themselves.

  28. @ken – Glass houses and Stones.

    If you get upset by the use of that word, you need a reality check.

    @Antonio – you’re not putting fuel on the fire. You made a worthwhile observation of your experience.

    @seanpodge – in regards to the grounding of the airline. I think you’re giving too much credit to the unions also wanting to negotiate in “good faith”. The merits of grounding the airline are a debate for another day, but on balance, most disputes involve actions on both sides.

  29. Thank goodness we live in a free market, where employees are not indentured labour, and are free to look for jobs elsewhere if they are not happy with working conditions and pay.

    For the morons in scheduling who tripped up and rostered staff on the ADL/DRW sector – shame on you. Hope management deals with that control lapse, and if necessary gets rid of scheduling staff who persistently make errors like this, that makes Jetstar non-compliant with laws, rules and regulations.

  30. Andrew – 36 hours isn’t 3 days…

    I also spend far less than $40 per day after accommodation and food expenses. I don’t think many people here quite understand what life is like for the average person not earning a fortune…

  31. The Australian-based flight crews also do a same day return SYD-DPS-SYD which makes for a very long day for them too.

    @Ken Get of your high horse and stop being a pedantic little flea.

  32. It’s nothing different to what sooo many airlines do.
    To Christopher Burge.. Good luck with tigerair lol.
    I find the British crews working first and business on QF are subpar compared to the Australian crews.

  33. A touch lazy again James

    I believe the ADL-DRW flight did continue to Bali

    However – the issue lies it departs from domestic terminal in ADL with domestic security checks etc

  34. Good report, James. My one and only Jetstar flight to Bali some years back had an exhausted flight attendant crew home, having been delayed several hours out of Melbourne. By the time we landed in Sydney the next morning these guys were not fit for duty. If the schedule works their duty time would be 15 hours, before delays. I complained to CASA as it looked like a major safety issue, but heard nothing thereafter. The pilots were OK as they don’t do the round trip.

  35. @ SC – it was a Jetstar pilot lodging the complaint about the ADL-DRW flight. I think he would know if it was a tag or not ; )

  36. I’m not sure I fully grasp the concept of racism, so I think I’ll just have to mellow out.

  37. Other than peak times, eg school holidays, a flight from Melbourne to Bangkok costs AUD 160-300 ( USD 120-230), a 9 hour flight. I doubt that people would care if they had to pay $10 more to give decent per diem to the staff .
    On the other the salary for the BKK based staff is close to 100,000 Baht per month ( in the top 1%) , AUD4000/USD 3000. About the same as a full Professor.

  38. Except Callum, that amount per the statement has to _include_ food expenses as well, not exclude them.

  39. @ken
    from another asian. man STFU, stop thinking everyone is trying to belittle our race you moron. God, its idiots like you that make us look bad.

  40. You lost me in the first sentence by making a totally unnecessary subjective value judgment (by describing the international route network as “impressive”).

    You then give hypothetical, not actual, examples of possible crew rosters to attempt to back your case.

    You confuse the Australian-hubbed international network with the JQ domestic and respective Asian operations (Singapore / Japan).

    You do not address the industrial relations factors that could drive potential cost saving measures by an airline – there’s more to it that whether a workforce is “unionised” or not.

    Nor do you clarify the extent, if any, of CASA’s regulations on cabin crew work rosters with respect to safety – do they apply, or not, if so, what did they say and is the airline breaking them according to evidence you have sourced?

    Once again, James, you have produced an article, which is potentially libellous (IIRC a previous article with claims that QF was cancelling CBR flights to save cash).

    I do hope that you have validated the sources of your claims and have had lawyers at OMAAT OK this content to go public.

    Yes there are rumours, for example, of Jetstar Asian operations funnelling overseas workers into domestic operations via the Singapore-Darwin-Cairns…

    …perhaps you should list your sources and evidence so the reader can be assured of the veracity of your claims?!

  41. MH – Fine I’ll rephrase that. I spend less than $40 a day after accommodation expenses. As would a huge bulk of people who work in similarly low paid menial jobs.

    Most of you really have no idea how most of the world lives….

  42. @Platy
    But surely there’s nothing much more here that hasn’t been covered in the Australian media ( extensive coverage over the past 48 hours).

  43. Cost of labour, superannuation, allowances, entitlements etc.
    This story reflects a classic example of globalisation .
    The reason JQ would be crewing Thais on Aus Domestic flights is the same reason while Holdens and Ford aren’t made in Australia anymore, manufacturing as a whole in Australia is done because of the cost of labour. Its more feasible to buy fruit/veg from overseas and ship it here, run the risk of most of it perishing etc etc… That all works out cheapear than having to pay Aussies to grow it all by industry standards.
    All Australia’s economy as a whole is good fors good for is selling raw materials to other countries who make goods out that matiersl and then sell it back to us or we just pay them to do it, Thats How Australia’s economy is.
    As for the $60 that is probably LAHA (Living away from home allowance) entitlement

  44. @ emercycrite

    was this one of yours, dear:

    “Matthew, you could really do with a proof-read before you publish your posts. The numerous errors really take away from what is otherwise an informative flight review. ..”

    Why shouldn’t standards of accuracy and journalistic professionalism apply also to the wee Aussie darling?!

  45. @ Paolo

    republishing other shit without checking your own sources is fake news…look where that’s taking us…disappointing that folk accept such poor standards of journalism.

    Wee James might have some constructive responses to my queries, but none thus far….respect if and when he does the work…

    Hopefully he works out how to make a big leap in his writing…he has the enthusiasm

  46. @ emercycrite

    Oh my dear…your other posts apparently challenge for better writing (accuracy)….why not in this case?!

  47. @lucky: When are you going to ban Debit from commenting? This guy goes from far right to far left views every other day! Today he called all Republicans “rapists.” He adds no value to the conversation and his sole intent seems to be to get people fighting. I am about as far left as you can get, and think that the political discussion has a place on your blog…but this guy is just a tool!

  48. On the topic of flight hour limits which was raised in the article, it should be pointed out that it is not uncommon for crews anywhere in the world to operate mid-range turnarounds (i.e. 6.5 flight hours each way plus the turnaround time and the 1-2hrs required preflight) does not necessarily amount to any more block hours than having an ultra-long haul sector of 14-15hrs of flying time for a crew. On a typical 6.5 hour flight, crews are typically afforded rest periods inflight to relieve potential fatigue. The same is true on ultra-long haul type sectors with the difference being the length of the rest periods allotted during the sector itself.

    So basically yes, its tough working a SYD-DPS turn but totally normal for most airlines that operate such lengths. The question should be more about how does JQ’s operation of such sectors vary from QF, if any, given they are both Australian based and conform to the same regulations set forth by CASA. This is regardless of the country of origin of their crews, as this has no bearing to the rules set forth for time spent operating in an aircraft and on the ground.

  49. @platy

    You are right, the author didn’t back any evidence. Please file a lawsuit. I also want to know the truth. Should be interesting “travel blogger” vs “logic troll”.

    P.S./N.B. (all those English ‘experts’ here, tell me which one I should be using)
    You read tabloids for rumors and gossip not investigative journalism. Not that gossips are all lies either. Travel bloggers are definitely not journalists.

  50. @ Eskimo

    I didn’t know that applying a little logic and common sense is now a “troll logic” thing! Times they are a changing!

    It won’t be me that files the lawsuit – it’ll be a big bad airline with fattened legal silks and lots of cash if James continues to show utter contempt for the legal risks inherent in the way he goes about his business…

    …I’ve been in the midst of a $300 million lawsuit over a piece of writing, so am providing advice based on reality…(luckily my work was accurate and backed up, so no liability)…

  51. @ James

    Whatever you call yourself, you should respect:

    – your craft as a writer
    – building a professional body of work to further your career
    – the inherent legal risks and costs in publishing potentially libellous claims in the public domain
    – building trust in your readership and thereby credibility

    IMHO it’s a great topic for an article. It doesn’t take more than 30 minutes of research to check the IR and CASA contexts. Subjective value judgments can be edited out in seconds.

    Blogs are two a penny – the better ones will attract the bigger audience…

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