The Federal Court has ruled Qantas will not be required to pay sick leave to furloughed workers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Qantas had argued that its 25,000 temporarily stood-down workers could not access paid compassionate, personal or carer’s leave because “there is no work to be absent from”, a spokesperson for the group told Travel Weekly.
In Justice Geoffrey Flick’s ruling, it was argued if Qantas were required to pay leave entitlements after lawfully standing down its workers, it would defeat the purpose of having had them furloughed, ABC News reported.
The purpose, he said, was “to protect the employer against such claims”, and to protect the workers from losing their jobs permanently.
A Qantas spokesperson told Travel Weekly employees can still access annual leave, long-service leave and other support, including the government’s JobKeeper payments.
Travel Weekly understands sick leave entitlements continue to accrue at Qantas and are available to be used when employees are stood back up.
The case for employees, including a man battling cancer and another awaiting a triple bypass, had been backed by the Transport Workers’ Union (TWU), which is considering an appeal to the decision.
According to the union, both men had recorded more than 30 years of service at Qantas.
TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said the union was focused on “getting justice” for Qantas workers, some of who are dealing with critical illnesses.
“The ruling is bitterly disappointing for Qantas workers battling serious illnesses and [for] their families, who are enduring worries about their finances at a difficult time in their lives,” Kaine said.
“This is about justice and the fact that workers who are battling serious illnesses should be allowed to draw down the significant sick leave they have accrued through years of hard work at Qantas.”
However, the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) said Qantas workers had been “distressed” by their inability to access their personal leave entitlements while on stand down.
“One worker who made a submission to the court has heart failure and cannot access sick leave, another can’t use his carer’s leave to look after his wife who had a stroke and their six-month-old baby,” AWU national secretary Dan Walton told ABC News.
“Just imagine the stress they are under. For workers like these and many others, this decision will be a bitter disappointment.”
In separate reports, a type 2 diabetic Qantas passenger, 80-year-old Perth man Robert Rowan, is preparing to sue the airline for $200,000, over staff allegedly failing to stow his insulin on a flight from Los Angeles to Melbourne.
According to The Sydney Morning Herald, this led to a diabetic episode and “heart attack”.
However, Qantas claimed the crew on the flight were advised that Rowan had left his insulin at Los Angeles Airport, and that it was not part of the process for staff to take insulin from passengers and return it to them on board.
Rowan is being represented by principal lawyer Barrie Woollacott of Slater and Gordon, the firm preparing a separate class-action lawsuit against several major Australian travel providers, including Qantas.
Qantas and Jetstar prepare for eased travel restrictions with ‘Fly Well’ program
Meanwhile, Qantas and Jetstar revealed today that they will roll out a series of “wellbeing improvements” to give peace-of-mind in preparation for domestic travel restrictions easing.
According to the Qantas Group, the ‘Fly Well’ program brings together several temporary measures “already in use”, including on repatriation flights from virus hot-spots, and represents a combination of best-practice medical advice and feedback from customers.
While social distancing features as an aspect of pre-flight Qantas departures, it is not one of the aspects for onboard travel.
“The data shows that actual risk of catching coronavirus on an aircraft is already extremely low,” Qantas Group medical director Dr Ian Hosegood said.
“That’s due to a combination of factors, including the cabin air filtration system, the fact people don’t sit face-to-face, and the high backs of aircraft seats acting as a physical barrier.
“As far as the virus goes, an aircraft cabin is a very different environment to other forms of public transport.”
“Social distancing on an aircraft isn’t practical the way it is on the ground, and given the low transmission risk on board, we don’t believe it’s necessary in order to be safe.
“The extra measures we’re putting [in] place will reduce the risk even further.”
Here’s what passengers can expect from the ‘Fly Well’ program:
- Information sent to all customers before they fly, so they know what to expect.
- Contactless check-in (via online/app) and self-serve bag drop strongly encouraged, including use of Q Bag Tags.
- Hand sanitising stations at departure gates.
- Temporary changes to Qantas lounges, including increased physical distancing, hand sanitising stations, enhanced disinfection of surfaces and adjustments to food and drink service.
- Working with airports on other safeguards in the terminal, including regular disinfection of security screening points and installing hygiene screens at airline customer service desks, wherever practical.
- Masks provided to all passengers on each flight – while not mandatory from a safety point of view, they are recommended to be worn in the interests of everyone’s peace-of-mind.
- Enhanced cleaning of aircraft with a disinfectant effective against coronaviruses, with a focus on high contact areas – seats, seatbelts, overhead lockers, air vents, and toilets.
- Sanitising wipes given to all passengers to wipe down seat belts, trays and armrests themselves, if preferred.
- Simplified service and catering to minimise touchpoints for crew and passengers.
- Passengers asked to limit movement around cabin, once seated.
- Sequenced boarding and disembarkation to minimise crowding.
Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said: “We’re relying on the cooperation of passengers to help make these changes work for everyone’s benefit, and we thank them in advance for that.
“Given the great job Australians have done at flattening the curve, we’re confident they’ll respond positively to these temporary changes to how we fly.”
According to Qantas, the Fly Well program will be reviewed after its first month of operation and shaped by customer feedback and medical advice.
In addition, Qantas and Jetstar have made further changes to their booking policies to “improve flexibility”.
According to the new terms, customers can book any Qantas or Jetstar domestic flight between 21 May and 30 June 2020, for travel between 12 June and 31 October 2020, and enjoy a one-off waived change fee if they decide to change the date of their travel.
Customers will have to cover any fare increase, if relevant, for the new booking, Qantas said.
Further flexibility has been introduced for international bookings, excluding trans-Tasman travel.
Customers with an existing Qantas or Jetstar international flight booking, for travel between 1 August and 31 October 2020, who wish to change their plans can cancel their booking and retain the full value as a flight credit.
According to Qantas, flight credits must be requested by 30 June 2020 and are valid for booking and travel across domestic and international services by 31 December 2021.
In addition, Jetstar credit vouchers allow up to two years to travel from issue date. Customers will have to cover any fare increase, if relevant, for the new booking, the airline said.
However, if a flight is cancelled by Qantas, customers will be rebooked on the next available flight at no additional cost. Alternatively, customers can choose a flight credit or a refund.
Featured image: iStock/ai_yoshi