Qantas and Jetstar are to stand down 2,500 employees for around two months.
The business group said the “temporary measure” was due to a drop in flying that saw its capacity reduce from almost 100 per cent in May to just 40 per cent in July.
The announcement significantly comes the morning after Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce announced flight and cabin crew outside of COVID hotspots will gain access to JobKeeper-style payments of $750.
Previously, stood down workers in aviation could 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.
Qantas has given staff two weeks’ notice with their pay continuing until mid-August.
Chief executive Alan Joyce said it was the “last thing the airline wanted to do” but maintained the situation was far better than this time last year.
“We’ve absorbed a significant amount of cost since these recent lockdowns started and continued paying our people their full rosters despite thousands of cancelled flights,” said Joyce.
“Hopefully, once other states open back up to South Australia and Victoria in the next week or so, and the current outbreak in Brisbane is brought under control, our domestic flying will come back to around 50 to 60 per cent of normal levels.
“Based on current case numbers, it’s reasonable to assume that Sydney’s borders will be closed for at least another two months. We know it will take a few weeks once the outbreak is under control before other states open to New South Wales and normal travel can resume.
“Fortunately, we know that once borders do reopen, travel is at the top of people’s list and flying tends to come back quickly, so we can get our employees back to work.
“This is extremely challenging for the 2,500 of our people directly impacted, but it’s also very different from this time last year when we had more than 20,000 employees stood down and most of our aircraft in hibernation for months on end.
“The vaccine rollout means the end is in sight and the concept of lockdowns will be a thing of the past. Australia just needs more people rolling up their sleeves as more vaccine arrives.
“The challenge around opening international borders remains. There are still several thousand Qantas and Jetstar crew who normally fly internationally and who have been on long periods of stand down since the pandemic began. Higher vaccination rates are also key to being able to fly overseas again, and finally getting all our people back to work.”
Last night, Deputy Prime Minister Joyce announced a new package of support for aviation workers outside hotspots – but the aid seemingly excludes ground handlers or airport staff.
He told The Australian the money was “targeted” to ensure financial prudence and argued the government “cannot keep on borrowing money forever”.
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.
“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.”