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Confusion as ground handlers miss out on JobKeeper replacement

written by Adam Thorn | August 2, 2021
Qantas 737s parked at Sydney Airport, as shot by Victor Pody
Qantas 737s parked at Sydney Airport, as shot by Victor Pody

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has announced flight and cabin crew outside of COVID hotspots will soon gain access to JobKeeper-style payments of $750 – but the aid seemingly excludes ground handlers or airport staff.

Joyce told The Australian the money was “targeted” to ensure financial prudence and argued the government “cannot keep on borrowing money forever”.

Currently, stood down workers in aviation can only gain access to support if they live in areas that are locked down, such as NSW. The new package aims to supplement the salaries of those in non-hotspot areas whose jobs are affected by nationwide border closures.

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Initially, 50 per cent of pilots and cabin crew from airlines would be eligible for the payment, providing they could prove revenue was down at least 30 per cent.

“If the crisis goes on then we have the capacity to scale up to more than 50 per cent of employees who are aircrew, we’re talking about pilots and flight attendants,” said Deputy PM Joyce.

Qantas said support was “much appreciated, given the acute challenges facing the sector”.

However, the TWU’s national secretary, Michael Kaine, said, “The government has failed to learn from past mistakes with half-baked, substandard subsidy and supports which don’t prevent axing and outsourcing of workers. All aviation workers are fearful of their future right now.

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“Lockdowns in Australia’s biggest cities affect aviation workers right across the country, not just workers in some states and not just cabin crew and pilots. A wage subsidy cannot cover 50 per cent of just some workers.”

The ASU’s assistant national secretary Emeline Gaske said the ambiguous messaging had created further anxiety for workers in the sector.

“Who is in and who is out Mr Joyce?” Gaske said. “If you’re including flight attendants, but not the people who check-in passengers and ground crew, on what planet can you rationalise that?

“Ground crew are 100 per cent as affected by the crisis as pilots and flight attendants and are equally in-need of support.

“This bastardised JobKeeper system appears to establish two classes of workers, those the government thinks deserve help and those who it does not think are worth supporting.

“Today’s announcement also once again leaves those working for international airlines out in the cold, despite the federal government’s decision to keep our international borders closed.”

The official media release only referred to the government providing “additional support for domestic airlines to maintain critical domestic aviation workforce capability”, leading to the confusion, before Deputy PM Joyce was quoted by The Australian.

In addition to the JobKeeper-style payments, he announced the Domestic Aviation Network Support (DANS) and Regional Airline Network Support (RANS) programs, which supplement essential flights between airports, would continue until the end of the year.

The Tourism Aviation Network Support (half-price flights) initiative is also being extended to 30 November 2021 for both sales and travel.

“The government recognises the importance of keeping essential support for aviation in place to ensure the sector is well-placed to soar to new heights when restrictions ease and more people can once again choose to fly,” said Deputy PM Joyce.

“We are laser-focused on keeping the nation connected and supporting economically critical freight movements as we continue to manage the ongoing challenges of this global pandemic and move into a recovery phase.”

Last month, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce reassured staff the business was “not at the point” of standing down workers – but refused to rule it out if COVID restrictions continue.

Joyce argued that if COVID 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 were widely interpreted as lobbying for a reintroduction of a nationwide JobKeeper.

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