“Dragged to hell and back”: Qantas’ illegal sackings severely impacted workers’ mental health, court told

A Qantas Boeing B737-838, registration VH-VXO, taxis from the domestic terminal to the third runway of Sydney Kingsford-Smith Airport, heading to Brisbane as flight QF520.  In the background is the old air traffic control tower, next to the main north-south runway.  In the far distance are residential districts. This image was taken from Shep’s Mound at midday on a cloudy, windy and stormy day on 7 May 2023.

A court has heard of the enormous mental impact that Qantas’ illegal sacking of almost 1700 ground workers in late 2020 had on some of the former employees.

Qantas, which faces a huge compensation bill over the sacking, is currently undergoing a legal battle with the Transport Workers Union (TWU) to determine said compensation.

The National Carrier fought the case to the High Court, but it lost its appeal in September.

In the process of determining the carrier’s bill, the court has heard of the immense psychological impacts the sacking had on many of the former airline employees. Some were prescribed medication to deal with depression and anxiety, while one particular former Qantas worker said they were taking four Valiums a day to deal with mental health issues, according to The Guardian.

The court will hear three test cases of sacked workers to determine the appropriate level of compensation.

Don Dixon, one of the illegally retrenched workers, said that he hoped Qantas would do “the right thing”.

“Three years ago we got thrown out the door unlawfully,” he said.

“We did absolutely nothing wrong, except turn up, do our job, go home and keep the travelling public safe.”

The TWU’s barrister, Mark Gibian SC, argued that the depression one of the workers felt due to the sacking impacted his relationship with his family.

“It’s relevant to his hurt and humiliation and distress,” Gibian said.

Another worker wrote in her affidavit that she also took Valium to deal with the stress and anxiety of finding new work.

“I often felt nauseated because of the anxiety and stopped eating as much,” she wrote.

TWU national secretary, Michael Kaine, believes that the level of compensation could be in excess of $100m, which would be given to workers depending on how much the sacking impacted them.

Kaine argued that some had lost properties and had “family breakdowns” due to the sacking.

“These workers have been dragged to hell and back through two painful unsuccessful deals, through a failed mediation process,” he said.

A Qantas spokesperson said the carrier wanted the former workers to receive “fair compensation as quickly as possible.”

“Qantas sincerely apologises and deeply regrets the personal impact the outsourcing decision had on these former employees.”

716 of the dismissed workers were TWU member.

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