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Qantas furloughs 2,500 due to COVID outbreaks

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In reaction to persistent COVID outbreaks, around 2,500 frontline Qantas and Jetstar staff will be “stood down” or furloughed for an anticipated two months, the airline announced on Tuesday (3 August).

The grounding is a temporary solution to deal with a considerable decline in flying induced by COVID restrictions, particularly in Greater Sydney, and the resulting border closures in all other states and territories.

Qantas has stated that no job losses are anticipated. Because of the nature of airline networks, the judgment will have a direct impact on domestic pilots, cabin crew, and airport workers, mostly in New South Wales but also in other states.

Employees will be given two weeks’ warning before the shutdown begins, with pay continuing until mid-August.

Income support in the form of government disaster payments will be critical in assisting eligible employees to get through this difficult period, and the Qantas Group welcomes the targeted federal government assistance offered for those stood down outside of declared hotspots and to maintain domestic aviation capability.

Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said the difficult choice to initiate stand-downs represented the realities that many businesses in New South Wales face.

“This is definitely not what we want to do, but we are now facing an extended period of limited flying, which implies no work for a number of our employees. We’ve borne a large amount of cost since the recent lockdowns began, and despite thousands of cancelled flights, we’ve continued to pay our employees their full salary.

Because of lockdowns in three states, Qantas and Jetstar have reduced their domestic flight capacity from about 100% in May to less than 40% in July.

“Hopefully, after additional states reopen to South Australia and Victoria in the next week or so, and the present outbreak in Brisbane is contained, our domestic flying will return to approximately 50 to 60% of normal levels,” Joyce said.

“Based on current case counts, it is fair to expect Sydney’s borders to remain closed for at least another two months. We know that after the outbreak is under control, it will take a few weeks before other states open up to New South Wales and normal travel can resume.

Fortunately, we know that once borders reopen, travel will be at the top of people’s priorities, and flying will return fast, allowing us to bring our employees back to work.

This is tremendously difficult for the 2,500 of our employees who have been directly touched, but it is also significantly different from this time last year, when we had more than 20,000 staff laid off and most of our aircraft in hibernation for months on end.

The vaccine rollout implies the end is near, and lockdowns soon be a thing of the past.

As more vaccination arrives, Australia just needs more people to pull up their sleeves. The issue of opening international boundaries remains a challenge. Several thousand Qantas and Jetstar crew members who regularly fly abroad have been on extended leave since the pandemic began.

Higher vaccination rates are also critical to resuming international flights and, eventually, bringing all of our staff back to work,” Joyce noted.

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