Qantas facing a fine for sacking 2000 crew despite court ruling

Qantas is facing a fine and paying compensation to workers for sacking 2000 ground crew despite the Federal Court rejecting a union bid for it to reinstate the personnel.

In July, the court found the airline had acted unlawfully when it sacked the baggage handlers, aircraft towing crews, cleaners and other ground workers in November 2020 because it was partly motivated by a desire to avoid future industrial disputes with the unionised workforce.

Outsourced Qantas workers stand outside the Federal Court which on Friday decided they would not be reinstated.

Outsourced Qantas workers stand outside the Federal Court which on Friday decided they would not be reinstated.Credit:Peter Rae

Federal Court Justice Michael Lee found Qantas had acted in breach of the Fair Work Act when it outsourced 2000 ground-handling jobs at 10 airports. The court had found it had infringed protections in the Act that prevented employers from punishing employees for exercising workplace rights.

On Friday, Justice Lee dismissed the Transport Workers Union’s application for the sacked workers to be reinstated partly because Qantas had threatened to retrench the workers again if they were ordered to reinstate them. Qantas had no intention of rebuilding its ground handling business and had saved more than $100 million through outsourcing.

Justice Lee said a global reinstatement order was “not an appropriate order to make in all the circumstances”, and he would consider the amount Qantas would need to pay as a penalty and in compensation to the workers.

The Transport Workers Union said the court’s decision meant Qantas had been allowed to financially benefit from their illegal behaviour.

Union national secretary Michael Kaine said it would challenge the decision for the sacked workers saying it could not be right for Qantas to financially benefit from breaking the law.

Qantas said outsourcing the ground handling work would save it about $100 million annually, reduce capital expenditure costs by $80 million over the next five years and allow it to match fluctuating demand.

Qantas said outsourcing the ground handling work would save it about $100 million annually, reduce capital expenditure costs by $80 million over the next five years and allow it to match fluctuating demand.Credit:

“We have a system that is very wrong,” he said.

Advertisement

The union’s lawyer Josh Bornstein from Maurice Blackburn said he was disappointed with the decision and “very concerned about the signal that this decision sends to corporate Australia because the impact of the decision is that Qantas will ultimately stand to profit from its unlawful behaviour”.

“The court was persuaded by evidence from Qantas’s witnesses that if a reinstatement order was made that it would be likely that the workers would be sacked again. We don’t accept that was the right decision,” he said.

Mr Blackburn said the decision had effectively extinguished the collective bargaining rights of the workers. He said the decision sent a message to corporations that they could “buy their way out” of workplace laws when it came to mass terminations.

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said this week he and his executive team were closing in on a deal to overhaul its domestic aircraft fleet, preparing to order more than 100 new jets with an estimated price tag of about $5 billion in a decision that will reshape its operations for the next three decades.

The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.

Anna Patty is a Senior Writer for The Sydney Morning Herald with a focus on higher education. She is a former Workplace Editor, Education Editor, State Political Reporter and Health Reporter.Connect via Twitter, Facebook or email.

Most Viewed in Business

Posted by WordPress Guru