Qantas Airways joined other major airlines in announcing a 2-month suspension of most of its international travels, beginning at the end of this month. The decision came after the Australian government urged citizens to forego any plans of overseas travel to curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
However, along with this announcement, Australia’s flagship airline also earned the ire of Union leaders after announcing a plan to stand down 20,000 of its employees without remuneration. It is, approximately two-thirds of the airline’s 30,000 workforce, which includes catering staff, baggage handlers, flight attendants, and pilots.
Union leaders criticised the company’s decision, saying it is stealing employees of their futures.
Yet Alan Joyce, Qantas CEO, reasoned that the move was necessary for the airline company to survive from what could be “the worst aviation crisis in history” as air travel demand plunges.
Joyce posited, “Lots of airlines are going to go under, [and] Qantas will not be one of them.” He confidently guaranteed investors the company would be the last one standing in the airline industry.
Despite this report, the company will still receive a chunk of the government’s response package with a total worth of $715 million as announced last Wednesday. On the other hand, Qantas’ budget-friendly offshoot Jetstar will also have their travel operations in a temporary halt.
Early this week, Qantas cut 90 per cent of its international travels, while another major airline, Virgin Australia, had its entire fleet grounded. Besides, both Qantas Airways and Virgin cut their domestic flights to 60 per cent and 50 per cent respectively.
National Secretary of Electrical Trades Union Allen Hicks demanded a form of federal financial assistance to go straight to workers who lost their job or income. As the pandemic continues to ground aircraft and limit travel, a harsher future would be in store for the workers when they exhaust their leave entitlements.
The Union representative also stated the high yield margins and well-paid executives of the major airline, asking they centre monetary relief efforts toward the workforce instead.
Hicks said both the Morrison government and Qantas should take urgent measures to address the workforce. Failure in doing so will result in a flow-on after-effect for communities, for the economy, and eventually for the future workforce of the travel industry.
The National Assistant Secretary for Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union, Glenn Thompson, called for big corporations to support their workers during these trying times. The Union leader urged companies such as Qantas Airways to give a 14-day special paid leave for their workers at the start of the stand-down period.
Dan Walton, National Secretary of Australian Workers’ Union – Qantas’ biggest labour union – said the company should support their workers at least up until May. He said Qantas and the government must create a contingency for the following months amidst the ongoing pandemic.
The National Secretary of Transport Workers’ Union, Michael Kaine, said the federal government did not meet with the union groups to discuss the $715 million response package despite their efforts. He even called Qantas’ decision to stand down employees without pay as “outrageous”.
Kaine, additionally, said that Qantas pushed on to their employees the burden of the economic crisis, and ripped away from them their hard-earned leave and their future.
Joyce warned that if the pandemic persists, the company will have to stand down more employees.
The airline company will announce its decision over travels in June and July by April. The affected workers will still get their leave entitlements, said Joyce. However, once they run out of leave credits, they will most likely end up without financial resources. Hence, Woolworths offered Qantas the redeployment of the affected staff.
The major Australian supermarket chain said it would open doors for casual and flexible roles to meet the upsurging customer demands in its stores.
Currently, in its 100th year, Qantas Airways assured it would remain in a good position despite the major setbacks, revealing it has plans to raise funds through mortgaging its newer aircraft.