Court rules Qantas used COVID-19 as “opportunity” to axe employees

Court rules Qantas used COVID-19 as “opportunity” to axe employees

The Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) has claimed victory over Qantas in its stoush over the airline’s decision to outsource its ground-handling crew.

The union took legal action against Qantas in September last year after the airline said it would outsource around 90 per cent of its groundwork operations, including baggage handlers, ramp workers and cabin cleaners.

According to the TWU, the airline used the global pandemic as an opportunity to sack around 2,000 employees to prevent them from exercising their rights to bargain for better wages and conditions.

If not for the pandemic, the union claimed workers would have been protected by the Fair Work Act, which prevents dismissing a worker for being in a union or exercising a workplace right.

In a Federal Court ruling on Friday, Justice Michael Lee said Qantas saw the pandemic as a “transformational opportunity” and that there was a “vanishing window of opportunity” for their airline to make changes.

Lee said Qantas failed to prove the outsourcing was purely a commercial decision forced by the COVID-19 outbreak and not based on workplace rights.

TWU national secretary Michael Kaine described the ruling as a “watershed moment”.

“The Federal Court has ruled that workers cannot be bypassed by employers like Qantas which want to drive down wages and conditions,” he said.

“Workers whose lives have been put into turmoil after being kicked out of work will be expecting their jobs as soon as possible and we will be seeking meetings with Qantas to ensure this happens.

“The judge made clear that Qantas targeted its ground workers for outsourcing because they were united to fight for decent standards at the airline.”

Qantas plans to appeal the judgement, and said its decision to outsource was not made to prevent further industrial action, but out of financial necessity.

The airline said that it was actively recruiting into its ground-handling function and investing in new equipment prior to the pandemic – “a sign that had no intention of outsourcing”.

“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 in a statement.

“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.

“Qantas was motivated only by lawful commercial reasons, and this will be the subject of our appeal.”

Qantas reaches settlement with pilot over age discrimination claims

The ruling came after the airline reached a settlement with pilot Andrew Hewitt after the 63-year-old captain alleged Qantas had short-changed him to the tune of eight months pay due to his age.

When the pandemic began last year, Hewitt was offered early retirement instead of redundancy, which would have seen him receive four months’ pay instead of 12, The Australian reported.

The airline made the decision based on an expectation that international flying would not be back on the table before Hewitt turned 65 and would no longer be permitted to operate international airline flights under international aviation laws.

According to the Australian, Hewitt, who is the son of Qantas’ former chairman Sir Lenox Hewitt, was among 55 pilots offered early retirement last year, with all but four accepting.

Hewitt joined the airline in 1980 and was ranked number four on the airline’s long-haul seniority list.

Travel Weekly has reached out to Qantas for more information on the settlement.

Featured image source: iStock/Chris Ryan

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