The announcement came after the Federal Government announced it would be extending support to the airline sector until the end of the year.
Qantas said the stand down is a temporary measure to deal with a significant drop in flying caused by COVID-19 restrictions in Greater Sydney and in particular the knock-on border closures in all other states and territories.
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Qantas stressed that no job losses are expected and that income support in the form of government disaster payments will be key to helping eligible employees get through this “challenging period”.
Extended Government support
The Australian Government said it has further extended key assistance measures to support domestic aviation.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Barnaby Joyce said the Domestic Aviation Network Support (DANS) and Regional Airline Network Support (RANS) programs have been extended until 31 December 2021.
“Through the COVID-19 crisis, DANS and RANS have allowed more than 1.8 million passengers to continue to travel across our country, including essential workers in health care and other frontline services,” Joyce said.
The Government is also extending a 50 per cent waiver of domestic air services charges for Regular Public Transport and aeromedical flights to 31 December 2021.
“This will continue to help manage costs for airlines as they navigate the serious ongoing challenges posed by COVID-19 outbreaks, including lockdowns and border closures.”
NSW lockdowns risking economic security
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said the difficult decision to trigger stand downs reflected the reality confronting many businesses operating in NSW.
“This is clearly the last thing we want to do, but we’re now faced with an extended period of reduced flying and that means no work for a number of our people,” Joyce said.
“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.”
Joyce said the decision to stand down staff for two months was in line with how long he predicts NSW will still be plagued by outbreaks and lockdowns.
“Based on current case numbers, it’s reasonable to assume that Sydney’s borders will be closed for at least another two months,” he said.
“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.”
Vaccine rollout key to reopening
Joyce added that the vaccine rollout is of the highest priority in reopening the domestic and international economy.
“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 vaccines arrive,” he said.
“The challenge around opening international borders remains. Higher vaccination rates are also key to being able to fly overseas again, and finally getting all our people back to work.”
Australia has been lagging behind the industrialised world in terms of vaccination rate but has been ramping up recently with the establishment of mass vaccinating hubs and more availability of Pfizer.