Qantas has lost a High Court appeal over sacking 1,700 workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the court finding the airline illegally outsourced the jobs.
On Sept. 13, the high court unanimously upheld an entire federal court decision exposing the national carrier to a hefty compensation bill for dismissing 1,683 Qantas ground staff across ten airports in Australia during November 2020, finding it to be a breach of the Fair Work Act.
The decision was a significant win for the Transport Workers Union (TWU). The unanimous verdict followed a two-year legal battle between TWU and Qantas ground staff who worked at the ten airports until the airline dismissed them in 2021.
Qantas maintained it decided to outsource for sound commercial reasons.
However, TWU alleged the airline’s outsourcing prevented them from collectively accessing industrial rights to bargain and take protected industrial action.
The High Court said, “the outsourcing decision was ‘adverse action’ within the Fair Work Act 2009 meaning because it altered the position of the affected employees of Qantas and [its subsidiary] Qantas Ground Services to their prejudice.”
Qantas released a statement on Sept. 13 saying it acknowledges and accepts the High Court’s decision.
However, it said, “the Federal Court initially found that while there were valid and lawful commercial reasons for the outsourcing, it could not rule out that Qantas also had an unlawful reason–namely, avoiding future industrial action. The High Court has now effectively upheld this interpretation.”
Call for Richard Goyer to Follow Joyce Out the Door: TWU
TWU said that new Qantas CEO Vanessa Hudson “owes” the workers and their families a deep and sincere apology, and was formally apologising for the first time following Qantas saying in its statement (pdf), “we deeply regret the outsourcing decision’s impact on all those affected.”
Further, TWU said Qantas Chair Richard Goyder alleged the board were “complicit in this illegal sacking of 1,700 workers. Richard Goyder and the board should go.”
“Richard Goyder backed Alan Joyce about this decision. And we know that Richard Goyder was complicit in it at all. This (the partnership) has been a spiteful dictatorship, and the board has been right behind Alan Joyce,” the union said.
Further, TWU national secretary Michael Kain paid tribute to the Qantas employees and their determination to hold “Qantas management to account.”
“Qantas workers have made history today. It has been three years and 20 days since Alan Joyce first announced the decision to outsource these workers, and they have not stopped fighting for a moment to ensure justice was served,” Mr Kain said.
Further, Mr Kain also said the final act of this board “should be to strip Alan Joyce of his bonuses and follow him out the door.”
He said, “the Joyce regime has been toppled, but the airline cannot achieve the reset necessary for survival under the same board that resided over the largest case of illegal sackings in Australian corporate history” and claimed, “Richard Goyder cannot make it through another day as chair.”
“Qantas needs a fresh start, and a worker’s voice on the board would make a significant difference and signal that Qantas is serious