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Qantas says periods of leave without pay for some employees will be inevitable. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Virus-hit Qantas stands down 20,000 staff

Qantas is suspending all international flights, will delay its $201 million interim payout, and is standing down two-thirds of its 30,000-member workforce until the end of May in the face of the escalating COVID-19 pandemic.

The national carrier, which earlier this week cut its international capacity by 90 per cent, announced it was now cutting all international travel from the end of March until at least the end of May as travel restrictions tighten.

Qantas also admitted leave without pay for some employees would be "inevitable" as it stands down two-thirds of its workforce to absorb the cost of falling demand.

The Transport Worker's Union said the airline's move was particularly galling given government's $715 million support package for the industry just days earlier.

"It is unfair and incomprehensible (of Qantas) to ask workers to bear the brunt of this crisis," the union said on Twitter.

But Qantas defended its staffing measures and said it was "obviously going to dip into (its) reserves" too.

"If airlines keep paying workers when there is no work there won't be any airlines left to employ their members," a Qantas spokeswoman said today.

Qantas made a $891 million profit in FY19 but, like its competitors, has been decimated by the spread of the virus and escalating lockdown measures. 

The company, which has also frozen the pay of senior executives and board members, said it was opening other leave avenues "in order to preserve as many jobs as possible longer term", including leave in advance and early access to long service leave.

Qantas is also in talks with supermarket Woolworths about redeploying some of its workers.

Shareholders expecting a fully franked 13.5 cent interim dividend on April 9 will have to wait until September 1.

They will also have to wait for the airline's already cancelled off-market buyback.

Today's announcement comes after rival Virgin Australia said it would halt international travel from the end of March to June 14 in the face of escalating government measures to contain the virus spread.

International travellers to Australia are required to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has also urged Australians not to travel overseas, while the government has handed the sector a $715 million lifeline to help it through the coronavirus pandemic.

Qantas said it and budget brand Jetstar would continue to fly to almost all its Australian domestic and regional destinations but less frequently, as previously flagged.

Qantas shares plunged by as much as 12 per cent to a near five-year low of $2.22 at today's open and was down 9.49 per cent at $2.29 by 1100 AEDT.

Shares in the company have lost more than two-thirds of their value in 2020 as the wider airline and travel sector cops a hiding from the virus fallout. 

Qantas has shed $7.6 billion from its market capitalisation since its shares reached a record-high $7.46 in December.

Two-thirds of the Qantas and Jetstar workforce will be stood down at least until the end of May, while senior executives and board members will now receive no salary until at least the end of this financial year, joining chief executive Alan Joyce and and chairman Richard Goyder in taking no pay.

Annual management bonuses have also been cancelled.

Qantas said affected employees would be able to use annual and long service leave, while additional support would be introduced, including leave at half-pay and early access to long service leave.

Employees with low leave balances will be able to access up to four weeks leave in advance of earning.

"Unfortunately, periods of leave without pay for some employees are inevitable," the airline said.

Today's announcement means more than 150 aircraft will be grounded, including all of Qantas' A380s, 747s and B787-9s and Jetstar's B787-8s.

Discussions are progressing with airports and government about parking for these aircraft.

Qantas' fleet of freighters will continue to be fully utilised.

Some domestic passenger aircraft will also be used for freight-only flights to replace lost capacity from regular scheduled services.

The new announcement has no impact on Qantas Loyalty's operations.

Total Shareholder Return as at 30/09/16

1 year TSR5 year TSR
222ndAmcor19%24%
231stLendlease17%20%
289thOrigin Energy4%-11%
401stQantas-9%19%
671 WA (and selected non WA) listed companies ranked by 1 year TSR relative to other companies with similar revenue
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Revenue

9th-Qantas$16,200.0m
10th-Lendlease$15,350.3m
13th↓Amcor$12,811.1m
15th-Origin Energy$11,981.0m
76 listed non wa companies ranked by revenue.
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