Justice Michael Lee says a high-level meeting will increase the chance of settlement.
New Qantas CEO Vanessa Hudson has been ordered to personally attend a mediation with the Transport Workers Union (TWU) to discuss compensation for 1,700 workers illegally dismissed during the pandemic.
A week after a unanimous High Court decision (ruling 7—0 in favour of the TWU) found the national carrier acted illegally in outsourcing the jobs, Federal Court Justice Michael Lee on Sept. 20 ordered Ms. Hudson to meet with TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine.
“I also have a very strong view about the need for people to be invested in this process at the highest levels,” Justice Lee told the court.
“I propose making an order that the mediation session be attended in person by no more than one senior and junior counsel and two solicitors on behalf of each of the applicants and respondent and persons with the authority to settle the claim of statutory compensation on behalf of all parties including the secretary of the [TWU] Mr. Kaine and chief executive of the respondent Ms. Hudson.”
Qantas barrister Richard Dalton K.C. had initially proposed the company’s in-house general counsel Andrew Finch represent the CEO during the mediation, but Justice Lee disagreed.
“It is appropriate in escalating it to an appropriate level to maximise prospects of settlement,” he said. “I want the CEO and the person leading the union there.”
On Sept. 19, Mr. Kaine revealed the Qantas CEO was prepared to apologise to the workers impacted by the 2020 decision.
Compensation payments could cost Qantas millions.
Airline Embroiled in Multiple Challenges
The latest episode comes as Australia’s flag carrier faces pressure on multiple fronts.
A Senate inquiry starting Sept. 19 examined Transport Minister Catherine King’s decision to reject an application from Middle Eastern airline Qatar Airways to double weekly services into Australia.
Ms. King has maintained that the decision was made in the “national interest” while also citing Qatar’s poor human rights record.
During the Senate inquiry, Airline Intelligence and Research CEO Tony Webber said additional services from Qatar would have led to “favourable effects” for Australian airline customers.
“There will be a material reduction in airfares … somewhere between seven percent and 10 percent,” he said.
Mr. Webber also said there would be an improvement in inbound tourism, largely from Europe, that could have been worth up to $1 billion to the economy.
Meanwhile, Qantas is also dealing with a lawsuit from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) for allegedly selling 8,000 tickets for flights that had already been cancelled.
“We think the penalties should be in the hundreds of millions, not tens of millions for breaches,” ACCC Chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb told ABC Radio National on Sept. 1.
While customers have banded together to file a class action lawsuit against the airline for not providing cash refunds for flights cancelled during the pandemic.