Woolworths has offered to hire some of the 20,000 Qantas workers who were laid off on Thursday, after the national carrier suspended all international flights and reduced its domestic services in the face of the escalating COVID-19 pandemic.
“The move reflects the uneven impact the virus has had on businesses, with supermarkets struggling to keep up with the “unprecedented demand for food and groceries”, according to Woolworths’ chief people officer Caryn Katsikogianis.
“We’re facing unprecedented demand for food and groceries across Australia right now and will need more hands on deck to help meet the needs of our customers in the coming months,” Katsikogianis said in a statement.
The supermarket is looking to fill as many flexible contract and casual roles as it can, and is creating a streamlined application process for Qantas and Jetstar employees taking leave without pay to submit expressions of interest.
Katsikogianis said the supermarket is seeking to match them up with suitable short-term opportunities across Woolworths’ store support office, supply chain facilities, customer fulfilment centres and stores.
“These are uncertain times for many different sectors and we feel for all Australians whose livelihood has been impacted by the coronavirus,” she said.
Coles on Monday announced its intention to recruit 5000 new casuals to help it serve the influx of customers in stores, restock shelves faster and drive delivery vans.
A spokesperson for the supermarket told Inside Retail the retailer was in talks with a range of businesses, but did not specify whether Qantas is among them.
According to Indeed, searches for jobs at the major supermarkets have spiked 500 per cent from this time last year. On March 17, searches for supermarket jobs accounted for 8.8 per cent of all searches on the platform.
Callam Pickering, Indeed’s APAC economist, said supermarkets have become a “lifeline” for workers who are now unemployed or who have experienced a fall in the number of hours they work.
This aligns with Retail and Fast Food Workers Union secretary Josh Cullinan’s observation that retailers have started to deroster casuals in an effort cut labour costs.
“It’s certainly gathering pace,” he told Inside Retail, noting that he has received several calls from casual workers who have had their hours cut.
While major retailers, including Officeworks, Target and Kmart have promised to provide paid sick leave to casuals who are forced to self-isolate, or care for a loved one, due to COVID-19, Cullinan said he believes most retailers will simply deroster casuals before such provisions can come into play.
Qantas said the 20,000 workers it is standing down will be able to use annual and long-service leave and have access to new support, such as 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 of leave in advance of earning, but the airline said periods of leave without for some employees would be “inevitable”.