Transport union wins against Qantas appeal on sackings

Photo: Transport Workers Union

Qantas lost its appeal against a previous Federal Court decision in a landmark case on May 4. The full bench decision by the court found Qantas’ outsourcing of nearly 2000 ground crew workers was illegal.

Qantas revealed in August 2020, during the pandemic, it would outsource its ground-handling operations at 10 airports to third party contractors. As a result, 1683 workers lost their jobs.

In one of the largest reinstatement cases ever heard, last year the Federal Court found in favour of the Transport Workers Union (TWU) against Qantas, challenging the airline’s outsourcing of baggage-handling and cleaning jobs.

Qantas’ appeal of that decision was dismissed by the full Federal Court that found Qantas was in breach of the Fair Work Act.

The company is planning to appeal to the High Court. If it loses it could be liable for hefty costs, including compensating the sacked workers.

In a parallel ruling, the Federal Court last December rejected the TWU’s application to reinstate the baggage-handling and cleaning jobs. The Federal Court judge found that if the affected employees were reinstated, Qantas would, as soon as it could, retrench them.

The full Federal Court judges agreed on May 4 and rejected the TWU’s cross-appeal that the workers should be reinstated. The TWU is now calling for compensation for the workers. It is also calling on the Qantas board to sack chief executive Alan Joyce, the key decision-maker in the outsourcing case, and the domestic and international chief executive Andrew David.

TWU national secretary on their second win and said the overpaid Qantas executives should be sacked.

“After a horror 18-months, having lifelong careers savagely and illegally ripped away from them, workers stood tall and took on one of the harshest and most powerful companies in the country,” Kaine said.

A unanimous decision from four Federal Court judges is “emphatic”, he said. “Qantas executives deliberately targeted and attacked workers and broke the law in sacking them to prevent them exercising their rights. Safety, service and sentiment for the airline have all plummeted over this unlawful decision to outsource. There is only one appropriate response from the Qantas board — heads must roll.”

Kaine said it was a “flawed legal system” that can find a corporate giant has broken the law but not be able to reverse it by giving workers their jobs back.

“Qantas operates on the edge of the law. With deep pockets full of unconditional taxpayer funding delivered by [Prime Minister] Scott Morrison, slap-on-the-wrist fines will not deter Qantas from its line of attack on wages and conditions…

“The failure of the Morrison government to implement a national aviation plan or hold Qantas to account for its actions shows how great the need for the next government to establish an independent aviation commission to protect airport jobs, safety and service,” Kaine said.

The TWU said it would use the win to push its “Same Job, Same Pay” campaign. “No matter if you’re working directly for Qantas, or for Swissport or Menzies, you should be paid the same money for the same work.”

A survey of outsourced Qantas workers showed three quarters have not been able to secure full-time work. 

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