Transport union slams Qantas appeal against unlawful sackings of baggage handlers

May 15, 2023
Qantas sacked workers at 10 capital city and regional airports during the pandemic and outsourced the work. Image: Transport Workers Union/Facebook

Sacked Qantas baggage handlers joined the Transport Workers Union (TWU) on May 9 outside the High Court as it began hearing a Qantas appeal against Federal Court rulings that its 2020 decision to outsource the jobs of 1700 ground crew was unlawful.

The Federal Court ruled in 2021 the airline had breached the Fair Work Act when it sacked workers at 10 capital city and regional airports, amid the COVID-19 pandemic in November 2020.

The court decided that Qantas’ actions were intended to prevent the workers from carrying out collective bargaining and, potentially, taking industrial action. They meant that Qantas could face a major compensation bill.

The May 9 Guardian reported TWU national secretary Michael Kaine saying Qantas’ actions constituted “the largest case of illegal sackings in Australian history”. He said the High Court’s ruling would have widespread ramifications for workers’ rights beyond just the aviation sector.

The High Court will be asked to determine “whether Qantas outsourcing was not just cruel, irresponsible and bad for business, but whether it is confirmed as the largest case of illegal sackings in Australian history”, Kaine said.

Kaine criticised Qantas for spending significant amounts on the High Court appeal, instead of rebuilding the company.

The Guardian reported a TWU survey of the sacked workers showed half had not found meaningful employment in the 2.5 years since the sackings. One third suffered mental distress and one in 10 had had suicidal thoughts.

Sacked Qantas worker Don Dixon said outside the High Court his colleagues had lost homes and suffered mental distress and strains on their personal relationships.

The TWU said on May 11 that aviation needed to “reform to ensure this can never happen again”.

The union is calling for a Safe and Secure Skies Commission to: Lift standards for all airport workers; make sure workers get the same pay for doing the same job; hold companies like Qantas to account for safety and fairness; and cap executive pay packets and bonuses to invest in workers.

“The [Anthony] Albanese government has made several commitments to a safer and fairer transport industry, and it’s up to every one of us to show why reform can’t wait,” it said.

The TWU on March 31 slammed Qantas’ belated 100-year anniversary celebration, the cost of which could run into the hundreds of thousands.

This follows reports that former CEO Alan Joyce could pocket up to $24 million when he leaves at the end of the year.

Qantas received $2.7 billion in public bail-outs during the pandemic and recently posted half-yearly underlying profits of $1.4 billion.

Joyce took $24 million in pay in 2018 — the highest paid CEO in Australia and the highest paid airline CEO in the world.

[Visit the Transport Workers Union for more information.]

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