The Guardian • Issue #1973

Federal Court favours Transport Workers’ Union ground crew against Qantas

Last year, the Transport Workers’ Union instigated legal actions against Qantas over the airline’s attempts to outsource 2000 jobs and the treatment of workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

At the end of July, Justice Michael Lee found that Qantas’ evidence was not sufficient to show motivation other than trying to disenfranchise union members.

Justice Lee concluded that Qantas’ evidence failed to demonstrate a commercial gain and was made in a move against workplace rights.

“The key concern of making the outsourcing decision at the time that it was made was because of the vanishing window of opportunity,” Justice Lee said in his final judgement. “The operational disruptions caused by the pandemic were, viewed as at November 2020, likely to continue for some time but not, mercifully, indefinitely.”

While the Federal Court ruled Qantas’ actions illegal, Justice Lee did not believe that the TWU’s demand that workers be reinstated was a practical one. He found it “conceptually difficult” when the union proposed the move; however, he has told the TWU that it is not off the table if they come back with a more detailed proposal.

“We believe that not only is the move by Qantas management to kill off the jobs of 2000 workers morally wrong it is also illegal under the Fair Work Act,” TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said.

Qantas released a statement on the Federal Court ruling, declaring that it will “oppose any such orders” to “reinstate workers or pay compensation or penalties. The airline also said that it intends to appeal the court’s decision.

Qantas Group executive John Gissing hit back at the Transport Workers’ Union, victimising the airline company, and lamenting its lost revenue as opposed to the workers’ rights.

“The TWU has put forward its persecution complex that our decision to save $100 million a year in the middle of a global downturn was really about stopping them from walking off the job at some time in the future,” Qantas Group Executive John Gissing said. “The fact is, Qantas deals with the operational risk of industrial action on a regular basis given the 50-plus agreements across the Group.

“That risk pales in comparison with a pandemic that has grounded our fleet and our people for months, and has so far cost us $16 billion in revenue.”

Beyond the union’s frustrations with the airline’s attempt at outsourcing, its workers have also been denied sick leave. Earlier in May, the High Court refused an application from workers that appealed Qantas’ refusal to pay.

“In late 2019, I was diagnosed with stage five prostate cancer that had spread. I started treatment in early 2020 and as I was in treatment the company took me off sick leave, as I managed to cope with bills and so on, and [then they] put me on JobKeeper. I was too sick to work another job, so I ended up having to leave. I find it pretty disgusting that Qantas would do this to staff,” said Peter Seymour, a former Qantas worker forced to take redundancy last year.

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