Almost three-quarters of aviation workers fear they will be unable to support their families when jobkeeper wage subsidies end in March, according to a new union survey.
The survey of 560 aviation workers by the Australian Services Union (ASU) paints a dire picture of the threat of job cuts to those in the sector hardest hit by Covid-19, in which 88% of workers have been stood down and 30% are still not getting any hours.
The aviation sector has already lost at least 11,000 jobs, with a further 2,500 ground-handling and cleaning jobs outsourced at Qantas.
While the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, has boasted that 450,000 businesses and 2 million workers have “graduated” off the jobkeeper wage subsidy – the story is different in the aviation sector because international travel remains banned and domestic travel has been hugely disrupted by periodic border closures.
With 80,000 people working in the sector and 78% of those surveyed still receiving jobkeeper, the ASU report points to tens of thousands of jobs at risk when wage subsidies expire at the end of March.
Jayne Hrdlicka, the chief executive of Virgin Australia, which has 6,600 employees on jobkeeper after cutting 3,000 jobs, has warned of further cuts if jobkeeper isn’t replaced.
The ASU survey found that 82% of aviation workers did not feel their job was secure and 72% were worried about being unable to financially support their family without the jobkeeper payment.
Jobkeeper was reduced from $1,500 a fortnight to $1,200 in December and again to $1,000 in the new year. In December, when the survey was taken, 85% of workers said the payment was not enough to live on.
The ASU assistant national secretary, Emeline Gaske, said many workers (44%) had accessed their superannuation or depleted savings, meaning they would have “nothing left to fall back on” when jobkeeper ended in March.
“I think it’s an absolute catastrophe waiting to happen,” she told Guardian Australia. “People are going to lose their jobs in huge numbers, have no income or be stood down and stood up haphazardly, with a little income one week, and none the next. They won’t be able to put food on the table, pay their mortgage or rent.”
Peter Evans, a full-time load controller at Menzies aviation based at Melbourne airport, told Guardian Australia that with the number of flights down to 10% of the normal load, he had shifts cut in half to four hours a couple of times a week.
“We’re only paid the amount of jobkeeper – the company can only give shifts for the few flights that are there – so heading in to the end of March is a pretty anxious time.”
Cuts to jobkeeper “certainly did” have a financial impact, Evans said, preventing he and his wife saving superannuation and for holidays – while “a lot of friends at work are behind on everything”.
Evans believes he’s better off because his wife works full-time and the company is likely to try to retain its load controllers, but it “wouldn’t and couldn’t afford to” guarantee work for all disciplines.
“There’s going to be shortages of work and cuts to shifts – some people have only been working once a week since the pandemic started.”
The union said aviation was the first sector impacted by Covid-19 and would be the last to recover, because it had been affected by government policies restricting travel.
“They were good policies but that means the sector is worthy of support,” Gaske said.
She said the industry “can’t afford to lose” highly experienced workers with “decades of training, qualifications and experience who keep us safe when we fly”.
“This is a group of people that we need to keep connected to their employers now, if we want to have a viable industry [when it reopens after vaccination rollout].”
In January the ASU and the Transport Workers Union wrote to the Morrison government calling for an extension of jobkeeper in the sector.
On Sunday the transport minister, Michael McCormack, suggested the aviation sector would likely be included in a support package, telling Sky News that “planes in the air means jobs on the ground”.
“We want to make sure that as many of those people who work in the aviation sector have a job and a career going forward,” he said. “And so that is what we will continue to do.”
McCormack pointed to $2.7bn of assistance already provided to the sector and confirmed he had discussed continuing support with Qantas, Virgin and regional operators.
“We’ll continue to have those conversations and we’ll continue to provide the right assistance as you would expect a good and responsible government to do.”