Qantas has stood down 20,000 workers and halted all international flights to see it through the coronavirus

(Photo by Ryan Pierse, Getty Images)

Qantas has on Thursday announced to the ASX a new tranche of emergency measures to “guarantee the future of the national carrier”, including standing down some 20,000 employees.

Along with budget airline Jetstar, Qantas has said it will suspend all scheduled international flights from late March after the government urged Australians to not leave the country. Around 60% of domestic flights will also be cut.

Two in three employees across the company will also be stood down temporarily “to preserve as many jobs as possible longer-term”.

“The efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus have led to a huge drop in travel demand, the likes of which we have never seen before. This is having a devastating impact on all airlines,” Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said in the statement to the ASX.

Citing an annual wage bill of $4 billion, Joyce said it was no longer tenable to keep staff on.

“The reality is we’ll have 150 aircraft on the ground and sadly there’s no work for most of our people,” he said. “Rather than lose these highly skilled employees who we’ll need when the crisis passes, we are instead standing down two-third of our 30,000 employees until at least the end of May.”

“Most of our people will be using various types of paid leave during this time, and we’ll have a number of support options in place. WE’re also talking to our partners like Woolworths about temporary job opportunities for our people.”

The company also announced during this period it would allow employees to take leave at half-pay, access long service leave early, and take up to four-weeks annual leave in advance of earning it.

“Unfortunately periods of leave without pay for some employees are inevitable,” it noted.

Qantas also revealed it will defer paying a $201 million dividend to shareholders until September, and cancel a planned buy-back program.

It comes as part of a wild week for airlines. Both Qantas and Jetstar had already cut 90% of international flights, and flagged a further reduction to their domestic capacities.

On Wednesday, Virgin Australia followed suit on Wednesday to announce it would suspend all international flights until 14 June.

Airlines are one of the industries hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak, as governments around the world implement travel bans and restrictions, and individuals opt to stay home.

To relieve some of that pressure, the Federal Government revealed it would temporarily forgo $715 million in fees and levies paid by airlines while the crisis played out.

More to come.

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