‘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.
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.”
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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