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Union to Seek $300 Million in Penalties from National Carrier

The lawyers representing the Transport Workers Union (TWU) said it will pursue Qantas for hundreds of millions in penalties after the High Court found the national carrier illegally dismissed 1,700 workers.

“The union will be seeking a very significant penalty in recognition that Qantas has already profited in the sum of at least $300 million from its illegal conduct and any penalty has to be an effective deterrent both for Qantas and, more generally, amongst the corporate community,” said Josh Bornstein, from Maurine Blackburn Lawyers.

Mr. Bornstein said there were economic and non-economic loss considerations to be taken into account by the Federal Court when it resumes hearings on compensation.

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“Some individuals have suffered from not only distress but worse, mental health injuries. Some haven’t been able to find other work. Many of them were long-term employees. Many were in their 50s and 60s who had worked for Qantas for most of their career so it’s had a profound impact on a massive number of workers,” he said in comments obtained by The Australian newspaper.

On Sept. 13, Australia’s highest court found Qantas illegally outsourced 1,700 jobs, including those of baggage handlers, cleaners, and ground staff.

Based on the judgment, Justices Kiefel, Gageler, Gleeson, and Jagot stated that anyone who took an “adverse action” to prevent the exercise of a workplace right was in breach of section 340 of the Fair Work Act.

The decision was a big win for unions, especially the TWU, who brought the case against Qantas and accused the airline of outsourcing to avoid enterprise bargaining and protected industrial action.

Since the mass dismissals, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission found that complaints about Qantas and their services soared by 68 percent in 2022.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) welcomed the High Court decision and lauded the TWU’s effort and its fight for its members.

The ACTU Secretary Sally McManus said that it is a huge victory for the workers.
“Today is a huge victory for the workers. The court of public opinion had already delivered their judgment on Qantas’ disrespect to their customers and their workforce. Now, the High Court of Australia has confirmed that Qantas illegally sacked 1,700 workers, doing untold damage to them and their families.”

Qantas Accepts the High Court’s decision

In a media release statement, Qantas acknowledged and accepted the High Court’s decision to endorse two prior rulings by the Federal Court regarding the legality of outsourcing the remainder of the airline’s ground handling function in 2020.

Although the Federal Court initially found that 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.

Consequently, Qantas offered its apology: “As we have said from the beginning, we deeply regret the personal impact the outsourcing decision had on all those affected. We sincerely apologise for that.”

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