Australia’s JobKeeper program is due to wind up at the end of March. The payroll support package, similar to the United States program, has proved a lifeline for thousands of airline employees Australia-wide. But with the clock ticking and the Australian Government unwilling to extend JobKeeper, the local airline industry is looking nervously at what will happen in April.
JobKeeper keeps thousands of workers on airline’s payroll
Initially, JobKeeper provided businesses with around US$1,164 per employee per fortnight to keep them on the books. That amount has gradually been scaled back with payments set to wrap up on March 31. But last year, while few flights were flying, thousands of airline employees in Australia relied on JobKeeper to pay their bills.
“I want to acknowledge the (Australian) Federal Government’s support,” said a grateful Qantas Group CEO, Alan Joyce, last year. His airline has received hundreds of millions of dollars in JobKeeper payments since the program first rolled out.
Across Qantas and Virgin Australia, around 12,000 employees remain out of work but kept on via JobKeeper. While domestic flying is recovering, that recovery remains subject to internal borders remaining open. Capacity remains substantially below 2019 levels. The international arm of Qantas remains largely grounded.
Virgin Australia thinks a continuation of support, whether JobKeeper or otherwise, is critical. Speaking to an Australian Government Senate hearing in late January, Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka called JobKeeker “incredibly important.”
“It has been critical for our business,” she said, adding the aviation industry will continue to need support after JobKeeper ends. With 3,000 employees on Virgin Australia’s books but not working, Jayne Hrdlicka says the program’s end will be devastating for them.
“The JobKeeper program, that wage support, enables them to stay whole and not be economically unstable as individuals or families in the process.”
Unions also push for an extension of payroll support
Normally no friend of senior management teams at the airlines, Australia’s Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) is singing from the same songsheet. The TWU says only 11% of their members employed by airlines are back working normal hours. The union says 55% of those members have accessed superannuation, and 40% have asked family and friends for financial help.
“Workers at Qantas, Virgin, and other aviation companies are just four weeks away from the end of a lifeline which has kept their jobs going and their families afloat,” says TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine.
Qantas’ Alan Joyce has also been spotted prowling Canberra’s Parliament House recently as lobbying intensifies to lock in further financial support.
There are some signs the Australian Government is listening. While resolute about ending JobKeeper, the government does recognize that aviation is tied to global trends and a special case.
“With respect to the Government support, we are looking at other measures that we can put in place, post-JobKeeper, to support a range of industries including the aviation sector,” Australia’s Treasurer, Josh Frydenburg, said last week.
Just what that assistance might be remains unknown. But there’s a call for an industry-specific support package. The TWU gives it the catchy tag, Aviation Keeper.
“We urge the Federal Government to introduce Aviation Keeper, which should include all aviation workers whose jobs continue to be affected by the crisis,” Michael Kaine says.
Should Australia’s airline industry get further assistance? What about airports? Tourism? All the allied industries so dependant on people flying? Post a comment and let us know.