Qantas loses High Court appeal over pandemic sackings

Melbourne Australia- March 14, 2014: Qantas airplanes wait for departure at Melbourne Airport
Edited by Travel Weekly

    Qantas has lost its High Court appeal over the illegal sacking of nearly 1700 workers during the pandemic.

    Qantas outsourced 1683 heavily unionised ground workers to third party providers across 10 different airports in November 2020. The federal court ruled in July 2021 that Qantas did so illegally, in the favour of the Transport Workers Union (TWU) which brought the case forward.

    The federal court ruling was given in part due to Qantas’ desire to avoid industrial action, which is a breach of the Fair Work Act, while the airline argued it was a commercial necessity given the uncertainty of the pandemic.

    Qantas argued that the outsourcing was necessary, as it would have saved the airline $100m annually and reduced future spending on ground handling equipment.

    The TWU has called for Qantas chairman Richard Goyder and the entire Qantas board to be replaced by new directors including a worker representative, after the decision came through.

    The TWU has also called on new CEO Vanessa Hudson to publicly apologise to illegally sacked workers and commit to a speedy and non-adversarial approach to Federal Court hearings on compensation and penalties.

    TWU national secretary Michael Kaine paid tribute to the workforce’s determination to hold Qantas management to account.

    “Qantas workers have made history today. It has been three years and 20 days since Alan Joyce first announced the decision to outsource these workers, and they have not stopped fighting for a moment to ensure justice was served,” Kaine said.

    “The final act of this board should be to strip Alan Joyce of his bonuses and follow him out the door.

    “The Joyce regime has been toppled, but the airline cannot achieve the reset necessary for its survival under the same board that resided over the largest case of illegal sackings in Australian corporate history. Richard Goyder cannot make it through another day as Chair.

    “Qantas needs a fresh start. A worker voice on the board would make a significant difference and send the right signal that Qantas is serious about getting back on track.

    “All eyes will be on Vanessa Hudson as she responds to this verdict. Illegally sacked workers are owed an apology and an end to Qantas’ attempts to delay paying compensation and penalties.

    “Hudson must reverse the destructive business model at Qantas that has exploited or attempted to manufacture loopholes to axe and outsource essential workers to 38 different entities. These actions have destroyed the airline and its reputation.

    “The airline and the industry need saving from themselves. We need Federal Parliament to urgently pass the Closing the Loopholes Bill, and the Federal Government to establish an independent commission to ensure aviation decisions are made in the interests of workers, customers and the public.”

    The High Court granted Qantas special leave to appeal the decision of the Federal Court in November 2022.

    In a statement, Qantas said that it acknowledges and accepts the High Court’s decision.

    “As we have said from the beginning, we deeply regret the personal impact the outsourcing decision had on all those affected and we sincerely apologise for that,” the airline said.

    “A prior decision by the Federal Court has ruled out reinstatement of workers but it will now consider penalties for the breach and compensation for relevant employees, which will factor in redundancy payments already made by Qantas.”

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