Unions have savaged Qantas’ “premature” decision to sack 6000 staff and extend the stand downs of 15,000 more as it deals with the fallout from the pandemic.
“This is a remarkable and unwelcome and unnecessary decision,” Transport Workers Union national secretary Michael Kaine said on Thusday, accusing the airline of “sideswiping Australian workers”.
Qantas made the announcement on Thursday morning, as chief executive Alan Joyce warned it would become a “smaller airline” for the foreseeable future.
“IATA, the peak body for the airline industry, says it will take more than three years for global travel to return to 2019 levels,” he said.
“That means all airlines, including Qantas, must take action now. We have to position ourselves for several years where revenue will be much lower, and that means becoming a smaller airline.”
Redundancies are expected across the entire group. They are likely to fall hardest on the airline’s international operations, which will be most affected by ongoing overseas travel bans and restricted flights.
The Flight Attendants Association of Australia said it expected 1000 cabin crew alone to lose their jobs.
Qantas also said it would ground at least 100 aircraft for up to 12 months and reduce costs by $15 billion in the next three years.
“The plan has three immediate actions to safeguard the national carrier’s future and the majority of the jobs that it supports,” Mr Joyce said.
“The first is to right-size our workforce, our fleet, our capital spending for a world that has less flying for an extended period. The second is to restructure, to deliver ongoing savings … The third is recapitalising through an equity raising that will strengthen our balance sheet and accelerate our recovery.”
Mr Joyce’s use of the term “right-sizing” sparked fury from Mr Kaine
“Right-sizing. After 30 years working for this company, paying Australian taxes and building the proud Australian kangaroo, they are victims of right-sizing,” he said.
Earlier, Mr Joyce said he had spoken to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg about the possibility of extending the JobKeeper wages subsidy in the hard-hit aviation sector.
It is hoped that thousands of Qantas staff will be back of work by the end of 2020 as the airline restores capacity, particularly on domestic routes. But the rest – mostly attached to international operations – have no clue when they might earn a regular income again.
Mr Kaine said Qantas’ should have delayed redundancies until a review of JobKeeper had been completed. He also urged Mr Morrison to do more.
“We’ve had the Prime Minister say to those workers, ‘I extend my regrets to you’,” he said.
“Prime Minister, those workers are much less interested in you
extending your regrets, and much, much more interested in you extending JobKeeper.”
Mr Morrison has acknowledged the aviation sector will need ongoing help, with JobKeeper and other coronavirus support measures to end in September.
“We are just working through the best way to target and deliver that support,” he said on Thursday.
ACTU president Michele O’Neil – who said the announcement proved Qantas had abandoned Australia and its workers in favour of profits – also took aim at the PM. The Coalition government’s refusal to extend JobKeeper payments to all aviation workers had left thousands without support, she said.
“They have prematurely decided to sack 6000 workers when if there was a proper program of assistance, if we knew that JobKeeper was going to be extended, then of course that is a better outcome,” she said.
“It also is a blow to the confidence in the economy at the very moment when the government should be instilling certainty and confidence. That is what people need. That is what workers need, our families need.”
The Australian Services Union is urging Qantas to reverse its “premature” decision.
ASU assistant national secretary Linda White said Qantas had one of the best balance sheets of any airline in the world and would be well placed once the coronavirus pandemic passed.
“Cutting jobs and capacity now will only hamstring the industry and economy – Qantas is shooting itself in the foot,” she said.
“If Qantas does not reverse its decision, we will fight for these jobs to be retained.”