Qantas workers likely to receive thousands in unpaid wages after airline loses JobKeeper court case

Adelaide, Australia - March 21, 2016: The tarmac at Adelaide Airport is a hive of activity as baggage services personnel load luggage onto Qantas 737-800 aircraft “Coonawarra” as it is prepared for its next flight.  Also on the tarmac, the aircraft refueller packs up his equipment.

Qantas workers will likely receive thousands of dollars in back pay after the Fair Work Commission agreed that the airline’s management has been gaming the JobKeeper scheme.

The Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) and the Australian Services Union argued in court that the airline refused to pay workers for public holidays, weekends, overtime work and allowances by standing workers down for the rest of their pay period and manipulating the pay system so workers only receive the basic JobKeeper payment of $1,500 per fortnight.

Meanwhile, Qantas argued that payments made in arrears to workers for doing overtime should be counted against the JobKeeper payments.

However, Justice Geoffrey Flick ruled that “the overtime component of the amount to which the employee is contractually entitled, and the amount received by the employee during the second fortnight being the JobKeeper payment, cannot be ‘set off’ or otherwise called to account by Qantas to relieve it of its obligation to also pay the JobKeeper payment”.

“All such inquiries as to the pay cycle of employers or the terms upon which an employer may pay an employee assume no relevance,” he said.

“If the consequence of the interpretation now … is that idiosyncrasies arise in respect to the quantification of amounts that an employee is to receive – including the prospect that employees may benefit from a ‘windfall’ – so be it.”

“It remains a matter for the legislature to ‘tweak’ or adjust the scheme if it sees fit.”

TWU national secretary Michael Kaine described the decision as “an important win for Qantas workers”.

“These workers have endured systematic wage theft at the hands of an out-of-control management,” he said.

“They have worked overtime, public holidays and weekends, and Qantas management has deliberately manipulated JobKeeper so they don’t have to pay workers a dollar more than the public subsidy.

“Alan Joyce and his team are now back to paying themselves millions of dollars at the same time that they are denying their workers’ basic rights.”

In a statement to Travel Weekly, a Qantas spokesperson said: “The Federal Court did not accept Qantas or the unions interpretation of the JobKeeper scheme, but rather adopted its own interpretation.

“It is misleading of unions to suggest employees should expect a sudden windfall out of today’s judgement.”

The airline said it has based all of its JobKeeper-related decisions on the legislation and guidance provided by the ATO, and made sure all employees receive a “safety net” payment of $1,500 per fortnight.

“That ‘safety net’ assurance is a central part of the government’s JobKeeper policy. Today’s judgement appears to cut across that principle,” the Qantas spokesperson said.

“We are carefully considering whether to appeal the judgment to the Full Federal Court.

“The judgment will likely have adverse implications for all companies receiving JobKeeper, who are already reeling from the impacts of COVID.”

The judgment comes as Qantas and Jetstar workers begin two days of protests over plans to outsource and replace them with workers on less wages.

The TWU is also taking on Qantas in the Federal Court over its refusal to pay sick workers, including workers with cancer, their leave.

Furthermore, the union is fighting Qantas in the Fair Work Commission today and tomorrow over the airline’s plans to axe and outsource 2,500 ground workers.

The TWU has called for Joyce to resign as Qantas CEO and has written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison asking him to intervene.

[NOTE: This article has been updated since publishing to include comments by Justice Geoffrey Flick and Qantas.]

Featured image source: iStock/BeyondImages

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airline aviation Fair Work Commission JobKeeper qantas Qantas workers Transport Workers Union twu

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