‘Outrageous’: Qantas criticised for standing down 20,000 workers without pay | Business

‘Outrageous’: Qantas criticised for standing down 20,000 workers without pay | Business


Unions have demanded that any future government bailout of the airlines include money to pay workers after Australia’s national carrier, Qantas, said it will stand down two-thirds of its 30,000-strong workforce without pay and end international flights.

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said the standdowns were needed to survive the biggest crisis aviation has ever been through, but union leaders slammed the move for robbing from workers’ futures to prop up the airline.

Joyce said it was “survival of the fittest” in the airline industry due to the coronavirus pandemic, and “lots of airlines are going to go under”.

“Qantas will not be one of them,” he said. “One of the things we are working on is making sure we are last man standing.”

The decision comes despite a $715m rescue package for the Australian airline sector, unveiled by the government on Wednesday.

The diverging approaches to school closures may stem from the considerable uncertainty around the extent to which children are playing a role in spreading Covid-19.

Children make up a tiny minority of confirmed cases – fewer than 1% of positive tests in China were children under nine. It is probable that a bigger pool are getting infected but only experiencing mild or no symptoms. Among those who have tested positive, nearly 6% developed very serious illness, according to an assessment of 2,000 patients aged under 18 in Wuhan, with under-fives and babies being most at risk.

A significant unknown is how infectious children are, assuming large numbers are getting infected. Early evidence suggests that around 50% of transmission in the pandemic at large has involved asymptomatic people and children could be among this group.

“It seems most plausible to me that they are being infected but are at low risk of developing disease,” said Prof Peter Smith, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “We know that for flu, children are important transmitters of infection, which is the basis for the flu vaccination programme directed at children, but we do not know yet how important they are as transmitters of coronavirus. So closing schools would be based on the assumption that they do make an important contribution to transmission.”

Rates of various illnesses are seen to rise and fall at the start and end of school terms. School holidays were thought to have led to a plateau in the 2009 swine flu pandemic. Also advised hygiene and social distancing measures, such as hand washing and reduced physical contact, just aren’t very effective in a primary school playground setting. So there is the potential for schools to act as a local fountain of infection for the surrounding area.

“Every mother and father knows that when kids go back to school they’re going to get hammered by colds and flus and sore throats,” said Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia.

This uncertain science has to be carefully weighed against the certain disruption and cost of school closures, including taking large numbers of doctors and nurses out of the workplace, and unintended consequences such as grandparents, who are among the most vulnerable, taking on childcare and facing greater exposure.

Unions representing Qantas engineers said the Covid-19 pandemic would continue to ground airlines and called for more to be done to help workers facing a harsh future when they have chewed through their leave entitlements.

“As the Covid-19 crisis continues to ground airlines and restrict travel, it’s imperative that any federal monetary aid go directly to those experiencing loss of work and income,” the Electrical Trades Union national secretary Allen Hicks said.

“Qantas is a major company with healthy profit margins and well-remunerated upper management. The focus of financial relief efforts needs to be the working people who are most impacted by this crisis.”

He said both Qantas and the Morrison government needed to take urgent action to support the airline’s workers.

“Any failure to do so will have drastic flow-on consequences for Australian communities, for our economy, and for the future workforce in this crucial industry,” he said.

The Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union national assistant secretary Glenn Thompson called on Qantas to bring forward maintenance work and give workers who are stood down 14 days special paid leave.

“Big companies with deep pockets like Qantas must support their workers in these uncertain times by providing two weeks special leave at the beginning of the standdown period,” he said.

Dan Walton, the national secretary of the biggest union at Qantas, the Australian Workers’ Union, said workers needed to be supported at least until May.

It was also essential “that Qantas and the federal government have a plan in place for the months ahead as we have no idea how long Covid-19 will take to overcome”, he said.

The Transport Workers’ Union national secretary, Michael Kaine, said unions weren’t consulted about the $715m rescue package, despite his efforts to meet with the government.

He blasted Qantas’s decision as “outrageous”.

“The brunt of this crisis has been pushed on to workers,” he said.

“Their hard-earned leave, their future, has been ripped away from them and into the coffers of Qantas.”

Michael Kaine

Outrageous: @Qantas is forcing its workers to bail it out, by using their accrued leave and FUTURE leave while it stands them down. Not a cent of its reserves will be used during the crisis. Instead taxpayers’ money and workers benefits are in the firing line #COVID2019AU

March 18, 2020

Joyce said more staff might be stood down if the virus crisis continued, with a decision on flights in June and July to be made in April.

Staff will be allowed to work for other companies, including supermarket group Woolworths.

They will be paid leave entitlements while stood down but Joyce said he recognised many would exhaust their entitlements and end up without income.

About 150 planes will be grounded until the crisis is over.

“If it gets worse we will probably take more out … if it gets better we can add more,” Joyce said.

He said a decision by the Tasmanian government on Thursday morning to force visitors to the island from the mainland to go through 14 days of quarantine, meant more standdowns.

“This is going to further evolve every day, every week, and we’re just going to have to be flexible,” he said.

The airline, which turns 100 this year, has cancelled all regular international passenger flights from the end of this month until at least the end of May.

It has also shut down international flights through its budget arm Jetstar and slashed domestic flights through both Qantas and Jetstar by 60%.

Joyce insisted the company was well-placed to survive the grounding, but said it was planning to raise extra money by mortgaging some of its newer planes.


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