Federal Court: Qantas wrong to outsource ground staff during pandemic

August 3, 2021
Image: Transport Workers Union

The Federal Court has ruled that Qantas unfairly sacked and outsourced 2500 baggage handlers, ramp workers and cabin cleaners late last year, using the pandemic as the excuse.

The Transport Workers Union (TWU) national secretary Michael Kaine said on July 30 the court’s decision was a “watershed moment”.

“This ruling calls a halt to shifting responsibility for workers and outsourcing them onto third parties on a low cost, take-it or leave-it contract,” Kaine said.

Justice Michael Lee said Qantas sacked workers to prevent them from exercising their rights to bargain for better wages and conditions and to take industrial action. Further, Lee said that the evidence showed that Qantas management viewed the pandemic as a “transformational opportunity” for the airline.

Three quarters have been unable to find full-time work since they were sacked and 77% of those who were sacked want their jobs back.

The ABC reported on July 30 the court was not convinced by Qantas senior executives that the decision to outsource the jobs was “not motivated, at least in part, by the fact the majority were union members and had various workplace rights under enterprise agreements”.

Kane said the union is seeking to meet Qantas to demand it rehire the sacked workers. “Senior Qantas management have serious questions to answer after this judgment,” he said.

“The judge made clear that Qantas targeted its ground workers for outsourcing because they were united to fight for decent standards at the airline.”

But Lee has reserved his decision on orders pending further hearings with Qantas and the union. Qantas is seeking to appeal to the full bench of the Federal Court.

Kaine criticised the federal government’s decision to “pump $2 billion of public funds into Qantas” while allowing the airline to drive down wages and conditions.

Qantas outsourced its ground work across 90% of its operations earlier this year. The airports targeted included: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Darwin, Cairns, Townsville, Alice Springs and Canberra.

Since the ground work was outsourced, a number of serious safety breaches have been reported including: planes severely damaged after being hit by baggage vehicles; damaged planes taking off without being investigated; dangerous understaffing at airports; pilots being given wrong information about baggage weight load; and baggage being delayed and damaged.

In addition, a TWU survey of more than 850 workers on safety during the pandemic revealed that 81% said Qantas was not putting appropriate safety measures in place; 93% were concerned about their own safety at work; and 69% said they did not feel that raising a safety concern would make any difference.

Qantas gave Swissport — known for its below-award rates and for giving workers grueling split shifts — around 1000 jobs.

The TWU said there was strong support for renationalising Qantas and, with the federal government giving it an extra $2 billion of public funds the case has strengthened.

The TWU said Qantas CEO Alan Joyce took $10.74 million in total earnings, according to a recent report by Australian Council of Superannuation Investors on CEO pay.

It has launched a petition for Qantas to be taken back into public hands.

[Sign the Qantas: National airline, national ownership petition here.]

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