Aviation

Virgin defends CEO against ‘vague’ bullying claims, launches new partnership with Qatar

Virgin Australia brought forward its legal defence against a former senior pilot who claims he was bullied at work; citing his argument as ‘vague’ and his allegations “not properly pleaded.”

Michael Fitzgerald, the former chief pilot at Virgin, accused the airline’s CEO, Jayne Hrdlicka, of “bullying and harassment” in a fair works claim last month.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Fitzgerald went on a period of leave from 19 July 2021 and was then told by the Virgin COO, Stuart Aggs, on 19 October that Hrdlicka lost confidence in him and should move on.

Fitzgerald claimed he was sent redundancy options via text on 25 October and on 21 December he filed a bullying claim to the fair work commission.

In documents filed to the court on Monday, the airline said that Fitzgerald’s court application was of a ‘vague’ nature, leaving the case liable to being struck out.

The court documents said Virgin denied contravening Fair Work Act provisions or that it prevented Fitzgerald from exercising workplace rights.

Virgin confirmed that the former chief pilot took personal/carer’s leave on 19 July, but claimed that he made no mention of any suffering, illness, or injury.

“No allegations were made by the Applicant at that time that he had been bullied at work,” state court documents filed by Virgin’s lawyer and Seyfarth Shaw partner Ben Dudley.

Virgin said that Fitzgerald was dismissed after two separate independent medical examiners found him to be medically unfit to perform his job.

In relation to Fitzgerald’s Fair Work bullying claim filed on 22 December, Virgin court documents state: “This was the first occasion on which the Applicant had raised any concerns that he had been bullied a work.”

He underwent medical examinations with occupational physician Dr Ki Douglas on 27 January, and then on 11 February with psychiatrist Dr Scott Chambers.

Court documents stated that both reports, submitted separately by the two doctors, said that Fitzgerald had a major depressive disorder.

Douglas recommended that he should stay off work until a psychiatrist’s assessment deemed him fit to work.

Chambers report said that Fitzgerald was unfit to return to work and it’s unlikely that he would be fit to take up the position in the future.

Chambers also said that it was unlikely Fitzgerald’s condition would improve within six months.

“The sole reason for the Respondent’s dismissal of the Applicant was the Applicant’s ongoing unfitness for work as a result of his medical condition,” Virgin stated.

The former chief pilot will respond to Virgin’s defence as the case continues.

Virgin also announced a partnership with Qatar Airways recently, which aims to expand both airlines’ networks, lounges and loyalty programmes.

The new partnership includes an expansive codeshare agreement and loyalty benefits offering Virgin Australia and Qatar Airways passengers unique rewards and travel across both carriers’ networks.

Increased travel options and benefits across 35 destinations in Australia for Qatar Airways passengers and to more than 140 destinations worldwide for Virgin Australia passengers.

The new partnership means that Qatar Airways’ passengers will be able to travel seamlessly to 35 destinations on Virgin Australia’s extensive domestic network.

The partnership agreement was announced at the start of the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai, where Qatar Airways has a significant presence.

Qatar Airways currently operates daily flights into Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and Perth as well as three weekly flights into Adelaide continuing into Auckland, New Zealand.



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