Virgin Australia has closed its New Zealand flight crew base, a move their union says affects around 600 jobs.

The E tū union said in a 4 April statement that the carrier emailed staff the previous night telling them that the closure was effective immediately.

Virgin has already suspended operations at its Tigerair Australia subsidiary and asked for a A$1.4 billion ($840 million) government bailout as it battles the coronavirus-induced downturn.

E tū assistant national secretary Rachel Mackintosh says the union “isn’t convinced Virgin needed to close so quickly” and the carrier should have applied for the New Zealand government wage subsidy.

“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,” she states.

Virgin Australia had said on March 25 that it was starting a consultation over the proposed closure of its New Zealand cabin crew and pilot base as part of measures “to streamline and safeguard the group’s domestic and short-haul international businesses through Covid-19.”

The airline’s chief operating officer Stuart Aggs confirms the closure of the New Zealand bases to Cirium as part of measures for its Boeing 737 flying and to ensure it can operate as efficiently as possible once the crisis is over.

He adds that Virgin Australia is working with New Zealand-based companies to help with future job opportunities.

“We have also committed to prioritising any former Virgin Australia team members for job opportunities in the future,” he says in an emailed statement.

This story has been updated to include a response from Virgin Australia.