/ 14 September 2023

A High Court blow for Qantas…

Image source: Getty
Image source: Getty

A difficult time worsened for Qantas yesterday when the High Court backed a Federal Court ruling that the airline illegally outsourced nearly 1,700 jobs – mostly baggage handlers – at 10 airports during the pandemic. Qantas had already lost the case twice in the Federal Court and launched a last-ditch attempt in May 2022 to appeal the finding, but the 7 High Court justices unanimously rejected the attempt yesterday. That forced the airline to apologise to its workers, who now have a clear path to seek what some reports say could add up to more than $200 million in compensation.

Gladly. The backstory is that Qantas dismissed the baggage handlers, cleaners and other ground staff in November 2020 after a 90% plummet in business thanks to COVID restrictions. At the time, the national carrier said the lay-offs were required to keep the company afloat – something it repeated in its statement yesterday – and contracted several multinational companies to carry out the work. But the Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) accused the airline of removing those staff to head off industrial action in upcoming wage negotiations – and the union said that was a breach of the Fair Work Act. The courts agreed, and the case is now the biggest example of unfair dismissal in Australia’s history. And we probably don’t have to remind you, customers have been pretty grumpy with Qantas – think missing bags and cancelled/delayed flights… Those are linked to the airline’s contracted workforce.

It adds to the growing list of problems new Qantas boss Vanessa Hudson has to deal with… Yesterday, TWU national secretary Michael Kaine urged her to expedite compensation for workers “so that they can get some justice and solace for themselves and their families”. Aside from that payout (which will likely have to be worked out in court), Qantas is also facing a class action over its failure to offer customer refunds during the pandemic, and there’s legal action launched by the ACCC over selling tickets for cancelled flights. Yesterday’s development hasn’t done anything to ease calls for Qantas chairman Richard Goyder and other board members to follow former boss Alan Joyce out the door…

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