Qantas cops $250k fine over “shameful” COVID sacking

Qantas Airbus A380 at London Heathrow airport. Qantas is the flag carrier of Australia and has 12 A380s in fleet.

Qantas has been handed a quarter of a million dollar fine after a judge found the embattled airline guilty of illegally sacking a health and safety representative at the beginning of the pandemic.

The Flying Kangaroo was ordered to pay $250,000 by Judge David Russell this morning for the sacking of Theo Seremetidis. The former Qantas worker, who worked as a lift truck driver and had been elected the health and safety representative, was stood down in February 2020.

At the time, Seremetidis was concerned about the risk of cleaning aircraft that had flown in from China and ordered his colleagues to stop, leading to his sacking.

Workers were allegedly being made to clean planes arriving from COVID hotspots in China without adequate personal protective equipment, disinfectant or COVID-safe training.

Justice Russell lambasted Qantas’ actions towards Seremetidis, describing them as an abuse of power.

“The conduct against Seremetidis was quite shameful…Even when he was stood down and under investigation, QGS (Qantas Ground Service) attempted to manufacture additional reasons for its actions,” Justice Russell said.

He continued: ““There was a gross power imbalance between senior managers at QGS and Mr Seremetidis, a part-time employee on a modest wage.”

Last year, Justice Russell said Qantas had engaged in “discriminatory conduct” when it breached workplace health and safety laws in standing down Seremetidis.

Theo Seremetidis (Facebook/@TWUAus)

“I find that (Qantas) saw the giving of the directions by Mr Seremetidis to cease work as a threat to the conduct of business,” Justice Russell told the court.

“In particular, a threat to the ability of (Qantas) to clean and service aircraft and get them back in the air.”

The Transport Workers Union’s NSW/QLD secretary, Richard Olsen, said the ruling shows that no business is above the law when it comes to the safety and wellbeing of its workers.

“By standing up to Qantas, Theo has shown that the safety of workers must always come first,” Olsen said.

“This prosecution has been a game-changer and has encouraged others to come forward with complaints of discriminatory conduct under the WHS Act. This conviction is a victory for Theo and for every worker who deserves a safe and respectful workplace.”

Qantas said that it accepts the penalty and acknowledged in Court the impact that this incident had on Seremetidis and apologised to him.

“Safety has always been our number one priority and we continue to encourage our employees to report all safety related matters,” a Qantas spokesperson said.

Qantas was embroiled in legal controversies last year, with a number of legal cases brought against the National Carrier. The high court found that the airline illegally sacked nearly 1700 ground workers during the pandemic.

For Qantas’ alleged deliberate selling of flights it had already cancelled, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s chair, Gina Cass-Gottlieb, said the regulator will seek upwards of $250m, twice the largest fine its ever handed out.

Featured Image: Qantas Airbus A380 at London Heathrow airport – iStock/tupungato

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