Both Qantas and Virgin Australia workers will benefit from further government payments while travel remains in the doldrums. On Thursday, Qantas revealed thousands of its employees who usually work on its now grounded international flights would receive a weekly US$387 payment until the end of October. Virgin Australia will also get further funding to help it kickstart more flights and get more crews in the air.
Financial reprieve for airline employees comes just in time
The news came just weeks before Australia’s JobKeeper program ends. The government-funded program has provided tens of billions of dollars in payroll subsidies to around 3.6 million workers, including thousands at both Qantas and Virgin Australia.
While many sectors of the economy are rebounding well, the travel downturn continues to impact airlines and airline industry employees, particularly those who usually earn a living working on and around international flights. There were fears thousands of Australian airline industry workers would lose their jobs at the end of March.
Speaking on breakfast TV on Friday, Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenburg argued it was imperative to keep these aviation workers in jobs, trained and skilled up.
“It’s all about protecting Australia’s sovereign international aviation capability,” the Treasurer said. “Qantas and Virgin have decided to pay these workers on a regular basis, and we want to keep that sovereign capability in Australia because as soon as our international borders open, we need that capacity. We can’t afford to lose it.”
It is the roughly 7,500 Qantas workers whose livelihoods depend on international services who directly stand to benefit. Most of these workers have been on JobKeeper since mid-2020. Qantas suspended nearly all its international flying 12 months ago. Now, nearly all those workers will receive the US$387 weekly payment in a deal worth nearly US$87 million. They got told the good news at a town hall-style meeting on Thursday.
Financial assistance package also appreciated at Virgin Australia
Virgin Australia also had around 3,000 workers on JobKeeper at the end of January, and that airline’s CEO had publicly feared for their future if the government didn’t come up with an assistance package once JobKeeper ended. Speaking at a Senate Committee hearing in January, CEO Jayne Hrdlicka said it would be devastating when JobKeeper ended;
“The JobKeeper program, that wage support, enables them to stay whole and not be economically unstable as individuals or families.”
Today, the tone is more upbeat at Virgin Australia. The airline says the on-going assistance will get more workers back to work sooner as the airline ramps up domestic flights and works on its future international operations.
Jetstar crew who work on that airline’s international flights and who are currently without work will also be eligible for the payment.
There’s a growing sense of confidence Australia’s airline industry is trending up. Domestic flights are now rebounding well. The Australian Government is also giving that sector a kick along. Last week they announced a billion-dollar-plus airline stimulus package that included hundreds of thousands of half-price domestic airline tickets – a boon to Qantas and Virgin Australia.
On the international front, the announcement of a two-way travel bubble with New Zealand is imminent. A month or so behind that is a proposed two-way travel bubble with Singapore. The vaccination rollout is continuing, and airlines are busy trialing digital health passports. Qantas is eyeing the resumption of international services at the end of October – just when this new assistance package ends. Things are coming together. There’s a good chance this may be the last assistance package the Australian airline industry needs from the government.