Qantas: Domestic travel falls 40%, employees brace for impact without JobKeeper

Qantas workers have been warned by CEO Alan Joyce that a 40% drop in domestic travel and ongoing COVID-19 border closures across Australia could mean the national airline is forced to again stand down employees.

Qantas workers have been warned by CEO Alan Joyce that a 40% drop in domestic travel and ongoing COVID-19 border closures across Australia could mean the national airline is forced to again stand down employees.

In a message to staff, airline CEO Alan Joyce lamented “frustratingly familiar challenges” for his team as more than 14 million people in NSW, Victoria and South Australia were subject to stay-at-home orders and domestic travel is put on hold.

“We’re not at the point of requiring stand-downs in our domestic operations at this stage,” he wrote.

“But to be honest, we can’t rule it out if multiple states keep their borders closed for extended periods.”

Mr Joyce said he wanted to “share his thinking” as Qantas services took a hit, with numerous cancelled flights.

“NSW is a key part of the Qantas and Jetstar network so that lockdown has already seen our total domestic flying fall from 90 per cent of pre-COVID levels to around 60 per cent,” he wrote.

“When you add in the Victorian and now South Australian lockdowns, our total flying drops below 40 per cent.”

Qantas-Jetstar
Qantas and Jetstar aircraft parked at Sydney airport earlier in the year

The Australian Services Union used news of the downturn to call on the federal government to urgently reinstate JobKeeper support measures.

“We need to recognise that the COVID-19 crisis before us now is as bad, if not worse, than last year’s lockdown and economic fallout,” the union’s Emeline Gaske said.

“The livelihoods of thousands of Australian workers and their families now hang in the balance and JobKeeper is the only thing that will save their jobs.”

The federal government insists that national wage subsidies will not be reintroduced.

A weekly disaster payment of between $375 and $600 has been made available to people suffering hardship during outbreaks.

In mid-2020 almost 15,000 Qantas staff were stood down without pay or on forced leave as the national carrier moved to shed 6000 jobs and slash costs to weather the coronavirus storm and lack of domestic and international travel.

The Guardian reported that Qantas collected more than $1.2bn in federal government support last year, including JobKeeper and aviation-specific programs – more than three times the amount received by its smaller competitor Virgin Australia.

Virgin Australia, which fell into administration last year after the government refused to bail it out, is estimated to have received about $368m while the regional airline Rex is estimated to have been given about $150m.

The figures for Virgin and Rex include aviation funding and Guardian Australia estimates of JobKeeper payments, which have been disclosed by Qantas but not by the other two companies.

In his latest memo, Mr Joyce was still optimistic.

“Unlike last winter, there’s now a COVID vaccine rolling out, and that means this cycle of restrictions and lockdowns will break.”