5 Apr 2020

Loss of 600 jobs as Virgin Australia shuts its NZ operations

7:31 pm on 5 April 2020

About 600 New Zealand-based jobs have been lost with the announcement Virgin Australia is shutting down its New Zealand operations, effective immediately.

Virgin Australia, Gold Coast.

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Flight attendant Kylie Halligan said staff are devastated, and are disappointed Virgin could not be persuaded to apply for the government's 12 week staff wage subsidies.

But she said the announcement does allow them to move on to try to find other jobs sooner, rather than continuing to wonder if the company would survive after the lifting of travel restrictions introduced in March to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

She said the staff includes office staff, cabin crew and pilots, and many will now be forced to look for work outside the aviation and travel industries.

"There's a lot of pain and grief for what we've lost. The Virgin Australia bases here in New Zealand were relatively small and we all knew everyone. The bonds formed while working and staying away from home all the time could never be replicated in any other profession."

While many will get a redundancy payout, about 19 staff had not been at the firm long enough to qualify, which was very hard, Halligan said.

"We're now moving into a job market that's going to be flooded with a whole lot of other people who've just been made redundant, so that just makes moving on to a new job so much harder."

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Kylie Halligan said staff are devastated at the announcement. Photo: Supplied

Another staff member, who did not want to be named, said the company could have done more to help staff in the lead-up to the decision.

"The tag line of the Covid-19 pandemic seems to be 'these are unprecedented times'. This phrase has been used to justify some ... disappointing behaviour ... from Virgin Australia."

Many of the employees had been with the company more than a decade, or in the case of pilots had trained for more than a decade to get qualified, they said.

"The airline industry will not be what it was before. We are unlikely to find jobs working as crew again with much ease. My heart is broken from the sudden upheaval for my whānau and I feel dazed and lost."

Rachel Mackintosh, Assistant National Secretary of E Tū, the union representing airline staff, said that the union is not convinced Virgin took every avenue it could have to help staff.

"The company should have applied for the wage subsidy and done more to ensure the continuity of employment and pay for their workers. The global aviation industry is in a precarious state. Airlines has been in a race to the bottom for over a decade and workers are paying the price.

"We are urging all employers, in aviation and beyond, to take advantage of the government wage subsidy and not let the workers bear the full brunt of the downturn."

Virgin Australia have been approached for comment.

International passenger flights to and from Australia were suspended on 30 March, as a result of Australian travel restrictions. To mark the shut down, the firm released a choreographed video of staff performing to the song "Don't Stop Believing."

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