A major union is threatening strike action after Qantas announced it is axing 5000 jobs over three years.
Transport Workers Union national secretary Tony Sheldon has called on the federal government to meet with the airline to find ways of avoiding the job cuts.
"But if (Treasurer) Joe Hockey's not prepared to do that, then it's industrial action that the workforce should be considering," Mr Sheldon told reporters in Sydney.
"In this country, if the government won't stand up for jobs and for the Australian icon, then we will."
He said it was "laughable" to see the company's executives saying they won't take more wage increases.
"This is the third time (they've said this) since 2010 and they've paid themselves an 82 per cent wage increase," he said.
Mr Sheldon labelled the announcement of job cuts "Joe Hockey's wet dream" and accused the government of working against the national interest.
He urged the government to drop its desire to get rid of the Qantas Sale Act, which limits foreign ownership of the airline.
"Do we want Qantas to be (like the Russian plane) Aeroflot with a Kangaroo on its tail?" he said.
"Do we want Qantas to turn around and not be the national icon anymore?"
The Australian and International Pilots Association described the job cuts as a Qantas "demolition job".
"The federal government should be twisting management's arm to be open and honest about where it is heading," AIPA president Nathan Safe said.
"Otherwise, it is like supporting a plan to bulldoze half a house before the blueprints to rebuild have been drawn."
Mr Safe panned Qantas management for its decisions.
"Put aside fringe issues and focus on the key reasons the company has been going backward rapidly and you will find it has been due to misguided management decisions," he said.
"Poor aircraft choices, distracting investment in risky offshore ventures, bad strategic choices, and terrible brand management."
The ASU, which represents staff including airport check-in, head office, administration and call centre workers, said it had not been told the specifics of the job losses.
Victorian ASU secretary Ingrid Stitt said it would be tough for staff who had mortgages and bills to pay.
"Qantas is putting their reputation and the satisfaction of Australian customers on the line," she said.
Workers were not prepared to speak to reporters at Melbourne Airport, fearing reprisals from Qantas if they spoke out.
ASU assistant national secretary Linda White also took issue with the decision to extending an executive wage freeze to all its employees.
"It's punishing the workers for the poor business decisions made by (CEO) Alan Joyce," Ms White said.
The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union president Andrew Dettmer doubts Qantas can guarantee its safety record if jobs are sent offshore.
"Alan Joyce and the Abbott government have once again shown their true colours - they don't care about workers, they don't care about Australian industry and they don't care about Qantas' safety," he said in a statement.
"This is a dire situation. We call on the government to stop blaming workers and their conditions and to stand up for people's jobs and Australian icons, not simply throw them away."
The Electrical Trades Union said the "age of entitlement" was alive and well for corporate Australia.
The union, representing hundreds of Qantas maintenance workers, said while government assistance for major industries was not new, any support for Qantas would come despite job losses.
"Contrary to the claims of the Abbott Government that the age of entitlement is over, we're seeing multi-billion dollar taxpayer support rewarding the largest private sector employer in the country for slashing Australian jobs and cutting wages," national industrial officer Matthew Murphy said.
Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association federal secretary Steve Purvinas said the union understood 175 licensed engineer jobs would go - 53 in Melbourne, about 65 in Sydney and the rest in other bases.
"We are hoping that we can meet with management next week and try and make some arrangements to minimise the impact of those job losses," he told the ABC, saying it could involve different rostering.
"We are hoping it can be as easy as possible on our members."
ACTU secretary Dave Oliver said the decision was devastating for the workers and their families, and further plunged Australia into a jobs crisis.
"Qantas workers don't deserve to be treated this way," he told reporters in Melbourne.
He said the company was obligated to hold appropriate consultation with its employees.
"We want to know `where did this 5000 figure come from?' We want to know where the job losses are going to come from," he said.
Mr Oliver said the ACTU recognised the pressures on Qantas were due to increased competition and an uneven playing field, but also blamed bad decisions by management.
He said aviation unions do not support repealing the Qantas Sale Act as it would lead to further outsourcing and job losses.
He said the unions would support the Abbott government providing some sort of debt guarantee but said it should have been demanding a commitment around jobs.
"We've had this government out there saying to the company `get your house in order', which is code for `cut your numbers down', which we are convinced has led to the announcement today," he said.
Mr Oliver said he will meet with Mr Joyce on Friday seeking a commitment to minimise job losses and support workers through the transition.
The AMWU's Mr Dettmer said the union would co-operate with Qantas but oppose any changes to the Qantas Sale Act that would give a majority stake to overseas interests.
"We don't think the Qantas Sale Act is as big of an impediment as the company would have it," he told reporters.
"We know it is important to the community and the workers that Qantas remain in majority Australian ownership."
The AMWU expects about 100 jobs from its 1000-strong workforce to be lost, the majority in Brisbane but also in Melbourne and Sydney.