Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce reassured staff on Wednesday night that the business is “not at the point” of standing down workers – but refused to rule it out if COVID restrictions continue.
In an email to employees, obtained by The Daily Telegraph, Joyce said if lockdowns end when scheduled, capacity could return to up to 90 per cent in August.
It came as Rex announced minutes earlier that it would cut or reduce services with NSW, Victoria and now SA in lockdown.
“We’re not at the point of requiring stand downs in our domestic operations at this stage,” Joyce wrote.
“But to be honest we can’t rule it out if multiple states keep their borders closed for extended periods.
“Hopefully, these outbreaks can be brought under control soon and we can bring capacity back.
“We know travel demand rebounds quickly and, if the current lockdowns end when schedules, then … domestic capacity should be back at around 60 per cent in August and up to 80-90 per cent in September-October.”
However, Joyce said if restrictions drag on for “longer than expected” it would be faced with continued low levels of flying.
“Under that scenario, we expect the support packages offered by government would kick in to provide a basic level of income support directly to those eligible,” he said in comments that will be widely interpreted as lobbying for a reintroduction of a nationwide JobKeeper.
The Australian Services Union’s assistant national secretary Emeline Gaske said, “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.
“It’s time for the Prime Minister to stop delaying and urgently reintroduce the JobKeeper economic support that got us through the crisis last year.
“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 news comes after TWU national secretary Michael Kaine told Australian Aviation that aviation businesses had so far kept workers active but the situation would “inevitably” change if restrictions rumbled on.
“People are currently working on ordinary hours,” said Kaine. “But for many in aviation, that itself is hard because they’re not getting the overtime and overnight allowances that they’ve become accustomed to.
“Clearly, casuals and part-timers will be used as a minimum, so they’re already suffering.
“But in terms of stand down, they haven’t been triggered yet. We had some pre-meetings with companies, which we are working with to attempt to avoid that.
“But it’s going to be an inevitability, particularly if the New South Wales situation doesn’t improve.”
Kaine said there are already calls in a couple of companies for staff to take unpaid leave.
“That means workers are going to be left to the vagaries of any potential social security system with no dedicated aviation payment,” he added.
When states and territories locked out NSW at Christmas due to the Northern Beaches cluster, it cost Qantas alone $400 million.
Earlier on Wednesday night, Rex announced it’s to suspend or “greatly reduce” its services affected by state border closures and lockdowns.
The airline has yet to release a list of the exact routes, but said it will affect its regional and domestic networks in NSW, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania.
Customers are being urged to visit rex.com.au/Coronavirus/CovidBookingChanges.aspx to apply to receive a full refund.
It comes after deputy chairman John Sharp said last week current COVID restrictions had closed 80 per cent of his business.
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