High Court dismisses Qantas appeal against pandemic employee termination verdict as national carrier found to have acted illegally | Englishheadline


Qantas has lost its final appeal in the High Court for a decision to outsource 1,700 workers during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 illegally.

The national carrier attempted to overturn two Federal Court rulings in 2022 that found the termination was a severe breach of the Fair Work Act, arguing the move was necessary to navigate the financially unstable climate posed by the pandemic.

But the airline lost both its appeals against the rulings last year, following which the hearing was taken to the High Court in Canberra in a last-ditch attempt to avoid paying colossal compensations to the laid off personnel.  

On Wednesday, the Hight Court unanimously rejected the appeal and upheld the Federal Court verdicts.

The cohort of sacked workers included several ground and fleet presentation staff – baggage handlers and cleaners – across 10 Australian airports, who were told their jobs had been axed for commercial purposes.

But industry figures and the Transport Workers Union (TWU) classed the move an unlawful attempt from Qantas to prohibit staff from accessing their collective bargaining rights if possible industrial action was pursued.

TWU has welcomed the ruling, urging Qantas’ new CEO Vanessa Hudson to make a public apology to the impacted employees and accelerate compensation and penalty processes.

“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,” the union’s national secretary Michael Kaine said.

“The Joyce regime has been toppled, but the airline cannot achieve the reset necessary for its survival under the same board that resided over the largest case of illegal sackings in Australian corporate history.

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“Qantas needs a fresh start. A worker voice on the board would make a significant difference and send the right signal that Qantas is serious about getting back on track.

“All eyes will be on Vanessa Hudson as she responds to this verdict. Illegally sacked workers are owed an apology and an end to Qantas’ attempts to delay paying compensation and penalties.

“Hudson must reverse the destructive business model at Qantas that has exploited or attempted to manufacture loopholes to axe and outsource essential workers to 38 different entities. These actions have destroyed the airline and its reputation.”

It comes as the airline’s reputation is already demolished amid a storm of controversies including an ACCC court action for selling cancelled flights, the highest recorded complaints in the last year, an unprecedented criminal prosecution from the NSW safety regulator for standing down a health and safety representative during the pandemic, and a class action from angry customers who say they were misled and denied refunds.

Qantas has since responded to the verdict, saying it “accepted” the outcome and made an apology to the affected personnel.

“Qantas acknowledges and accepts the High Court’s decision to uphold two prior rulings by the Federal Court regarding the legality of outsourcing the remainder of the airline’s ground handling function in 2020,” the statement reads. 

“The Federal Court originally 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.

“The decision to outsource the remainder of the airline’s ground handling function was made in August 2020, when borders were closed, lockdowns were in place and no COVID vaccine existed. The likelihood of a years’ long crisis led Qantas to restructure its business to improve its ability to survive and ultimately recover.

“As we have said from the beginning, we deeply regret the personal impact the outsourcing decision had on all those affected and we sincerely apologise for that. 

“A prior decision by the Federal Court has ruled out reinstatement of workers but it will now consider penalties for the breach and compensation for relevant employees,  which will factor in redundancy payments already made by Qantas.”

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