Qantas LOSE landmark High Court case as judges find sacking of 1700 workers was illegal
Qantas illegally outsourced 1,683 ground worker’s jobs in 2020, the High Court has ruled.
The national carrier was disputing two previous rulings which also determined the decision to lay off baggage handlers, cleaners and ground staff across 10 airports in November 2020 was illegal.
The High Court unanimously ruled in favour of the Transport Workers Union, who disputed Qantas’ argument it was a necessary step in uncertain Covid times.
TWU national secretary Michael Kaine suggested impacted workers could seek compensation from the airline if the High Court upheld the original decision.
‘If they weren’t supposed to have been sacked under the law, then they had an entitlement to continue working and of course, that means they had an entitlement pay and conditions,’ he told Sky News.
Later, he praised the tenacity of the workforce and noted the ‘Joyce regime has been toppled’.
‘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.’
He has called on the board to strip former CEO Alan Joyce of his $10.8million bonuses, and ‘follow him out the door’.
In response to the decision on Wednesday, the TWU called for the entire Qantas board to be replaced.
‘Richard Goyder and the entire Qantas board must be replaced by new directors including a worker representative, after the High Court today unanimously upheld two Federal Court verdicts that Qantas illegally outsourced 1700 workers,’ the TWU said in a statement.
It comes just a day after news.com.au revealed all of the High Court judges have memberships to Qantas’ elite chairman’s lounge. The boss of the TWU said on Wednesday he had no concerns about impartiality.
The decision comes after a horror month for Qantas, in which CEO Alan Joyce retired two months earlier than intended in an attempt to quieten some of the criticism.
Questions have been raised over the government’s close ties with the national carrier after a decision was made to block Qatar Airways bid for more flights into Australian cities.
The decision came on the back of lobbying from Qantas, though Transport Minister Catherine King said the airline played no role in her decision.
And the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) launched action in the Federal Court on August 31, alleging Qantas had ‘engaged in false, misleading or deceptive conduct’ by selling sale tickets for more than 8000 already-cancelled flights between May and July last year.
The ACCC is seeking to penalise the airline by more than $250m.
In a statement, a Qantas spokesperson conceded the airline’s service standards had ‘fell short’.
The spokesperson said the airline was aware that the ACCC allegations especially had ’caused significant concern among our customers’, but the allegations were being taken seriously.
‘The ACCC’s allegations come at a time when Qantas’s reputation has already been hit hard on several fronts,’ the spokesperson said.
‘We want the community to know that we hear and understand their disappointment.
‘We know it will take time to repair. And we are absolutely determined to do that.’
The spokesperson said the period of time that the consumer watchdog’s claims relate to – mid-2022 – was ‘one of well-publicised upheaval and uncertainty across the aviation industry’.
Qantas also denied suggestions it had engaged in charging a ‘fee for no service’ and said it would address the allegations in full ‘without cutting across the legal process’.
‘Our longstanding practice is that when a flight is cancelled, customers are offered an alternative flight as close as possible to their original departure time or a refund,’ the spokesperson said.
In launching its action, the ACCC alleged Qantas ‘kept selling tickets on its website’ for an average of more than two weeks – sometimes up to 47 days – after the flights had been cancelled.
It also alleges that for more than 10,000 flights scheduled to depart over the three months, Qantas ‘did not notify existing ticketholders’ that their flights had been cancelled for an average of 18 days but in some cases up to 48 days.
Additionally, Mr Joyce was granted $10.8m in shares for bonuses deferred during the pandemic – all the while Qantas maintained it had no obligation to pay back the $2.7bn in government payments it received during Covid-19.
Last month, Qantas recorded a $2.47bn profit for the 2022-23 financial year.