Around 2,500 frontline Qantas and Jetstar employees will be stood down for an estimated two months in response to the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks.
In a statement, the Qantas Group said the stand-downs were a temporary measure to deal with a significant drop in flying caused by COVID restrictions in Greater Sydney in particular, and the knock-on border closures in all other states and territories. No job losses are expected.
Today’s decision will directly impact domestic pilots, cabin crew and airport workers, mostly in NSW but also in other states. Employees will be given two weeks’ notice before the stand-downs take effect, with pay continuing until mid-August.
The Qantas Group said income support in the form of government disaster payments will be key to helping eligible employees get through this challenging period, and it welcomed the targeted federal government support offered for those stood down outside of declared hotspots and to retain domestic aviation capability.
Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said the difficult decision to trigger stand-downs reflected the reality confronting many businesses operating in NSW.
“This is clearly the last thing we want to do, but we’re now faced with an extended period of reduced flying and that means no work for a number of our people,” he said.
“We’ve absorbed a significant amount of cost since these recent lockdowns started and continued paying our people their full rosters despite thousands of cancelled flights.
“Qantas and Jetstar have gone from operating almost 100 per cent of their usual domestic flying in May to less than 40 per cent in July because of lockdowns in three states.
“Hopefully, once other states open back up to South Australia and Victoria in the next week or so, and the current outbreak in Brisbane is brought under control, our domestic flying will come back to around 50 to 60 per cent of normal levels.”
Joyce said that based on current case numbers, it was reasonable to assume that Sydney’s borders will be closed for at least another two months.
“We know it will take a few weeks once the outbreak is under control before other states open to NSW and normal travel can resume,” he said.
“Fortunately, we know that once borders do reopen, travel is at the top of people’s list and flying tends to come back quickly, so we can get our employees back to work.
“This is extremely challenging for the 2,500 of our people directly impacted, but it’s also very different from this time last year when we had more than 20,000 employees stood down and most of our aircraft in hibernation for months on end.”
Joyce said the COVID vaccine rollout meant “the end is in sight and the concept of lockdowns will be a thing of the past”.
“Australia just needs more people rolling up their sleeves as more vaccine arrives,” he said.
However, the Qantas Group chief noted the challenge around opening international borders remains.
“There are still several thousand Qantas and Jetstar crew who normally fly internationally and who have been on long periods of stand down since the pandemic began,” he said.
“Higher vaccination rates are also key to being able to fly overseas again, and finally getting all our people back to work.”
Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) national secretary Michael Kaine said confusion over which stood-down Qantas and Jetstar workers will receive a wage subsidy from the federal government was “a big blow” for aviation workers.
“Aviation workers will today be reeling from this latest news,” he said.
“There is utter confusion over who will receive the wage subsidy. Qantas says it won’t pay workers stood down, but the federal government says it will only pay supports to cabin crew and pilots – and even then, only half of them.
“The federal government and Qantas are playing a game of Russian Roulette with aviation workers over who will be able to pay their bills and who won’t.”
Kaine said the TWU wants to see a wage subsidy extended to all aviation workers, including ground workers, and that companies must commit to retaining workers and capping executive salaries.
News of the stand-downs comes not long after Qantas lost its Federal Court battle against the union over its decision to outsource its ground-handling crew.
Please note: This story has been updated since first being published to include commentary from the TWU.
Featured image source: iStock/ai_yoshi