The Federal Court has knocked back Qantas’ attempt to “delay” remedy hearings that would see thousands of outsourced workers compensated.
The court decided it would proceed to work towards the reinstatement and compensation of workers and penalties on Qantas for “illegal outsourcing”, despite a submission from the airline arguing the complexity of reinstating around 2,000 workers.
A reinstatement to this scale has never been dealt with in the Federal Court.
Justice Michael Lee agreed with the Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) that workers’ lives must not be put on hold, indicating that he was willing to work over the Christmas period if necessary to have the case resolved as soon as possible.
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.
In a Federal Court ruling on 30 July, 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.
Qantas said it would appeal the decision.
As proposed to the court by the TWU, workers will be surveyed on their preferences for reinstatement and compensation and a small sample of workers will run test cases to support the resolution of such a complex remedy hearing.
TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said the court’s decision to proceed will bring relief to workers still struggling mentally and financially, despite Qantas’ attempts to “delay” remedy hearings.
“Qantas has predictably but shamefully made every attempt to drag out the suffering of workers and delay the resolution of this case. Today, workers took another step towards justice,” Kaine said.
“The strain that this turmoil has put on workers and their families has been immeasurable. Marriages have broken down and workers have had to seek medical help, describing to the union the crippling anxiety and physical illness and distress caused by their illegal sacking.”
A spokesperson for Qantas told Travel Weekly airline maintains it was motivated by lawful commercial reasons, “including saving $100 million a year in the middle of a global pandemic, which is the basis of our appeal”.
“Any operational risk from possible industrial action in the future pales in comparison with the impact of COVID, which has so far cost us $16 billion in revenue – and is likely to exceed $20 billion by the end of this year,” the spokesperson said.
“The impact the latest lockdowns in Melbourne and Sydney have had on domestic travel shows why it was so important that we unlocked the structural savings from outsourcing the remainder of our ground handling.”
A date for the remedy hearings will be set when the parties meet again in court on 1 October.