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Qantas, Jetstar Suspend International Flights, Most Employees Temporarily Stood Down

The Qantas Group has announced it will suspend international flights from the end of March through May and temporarily stand down two-thirds of its staff.

Qantas and Jetstar will ground more than 150 aircraft following government advice urging Australians not to travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Qantas Group also announced it would slash 60 percent of its domestic capacity.

It's a move that will impact up to 20,000 workers.

"It's very sad but we don’t have work for most of our employees. We've been through wars... and when this is all passes and people are travelling again, the spirit of Australia will be there," Qantas Group CEO, Alan Joyce said.

“We’re in a strong financial position right now, but our wages bill is more than $4 billion a year. With the huge drop in revenue we’re facing, we have to make difficult decisions to guarantee the future of the national carrier."

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Qantas has slashed its flight schedule by 25 percent, with boss Alan Joyce to receive no salary for the next six months, as the airline battles to respond to a "significant" drop in travel due to coronavirus concerns.

Qantas said employees will be able to use their annual leave and long service leave to fund their time off. They'll also be able to leave at half pay and have early access to long service leave.

Joyce said the company has been in contact with Woolworths which has offered to fill some of its positions with Qantas employees.

The Australian Transport Workers Union said airline staff are "devastated" they've been forced to "fund this bailout" and give up their hard-earned leave.

"Let's be very clear. Qantas is not saying to workers, you use this leave... now and we'll pay it back," TWU National Secretary, Michael Kaine said.

Qantas planes on the runway at Sydney Airport. Image: AP

"They are simply asking the workers to fund this bail-out. The consequences of that, of course, are devastating for workers," he added.

"Workers, who have for decades, set aside this leave in the expectation that when they finish work it will be a pot there for them, their hard-earned money -- through which they can support their retirement and support their children and their families."

Kaine criticised the airline's drastic measures after the Federal Government had announced a $715 million support package for Australian aviation.

"It is only 48 hours ago since the Federal Government, after having closed all meetings with the CEOs of airlines, announced a $750 million relief package," he said.

"Now the question that's on everyone's lips today is: where is the evidence of that relief package?"

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Virgin Australia has suspended all international flights and ordered thousands of its staff to take leave, with planes to be grounded from March 30 to June 14.

Qantas welcomed the government's package on Wednesday.

“We know there are a lot of calls for government assistance across the economy because of coronavirus but aviation has probably been the first and hardest hit," Joyce said.

“The Deputy Prime Minister has stayed close to the airlines as this crisis has unfolded and that’s helped with the design of the package," Joyce added.

“There are some tough weeks and possibly months ahead, but our focus is on getting through that so we’re ready to help with the recovery on the other side.”

Do you have a story tip? Contact Eden at egillespie@networkten.com.au