Compensation Hearings Begin in Australia for Qantas Workers

March 18, 2024
The Federal Court will commence up to two weeks of compensation hearings for 1,700 illegally sacked Qantas workers.

Compensation hearings for 1,700 illegally sacked Qantas workers began March 6 in the Federal Court of Australia and could last up to two weeks.

The matter returned to the Federal Court after the High Court unanimously rejected Qantas’ attempt to overturn the verdicts of the Federal Court and Full Court of Appeal that the airline had illegally sacked the workers.

Three test cases, each with a different set of circumstances, will be heard by the Federal Court to determine compensation outcomes.

The District Court of NSW on March 6 imposed a $250,000 penalty on Qantas for unlawfully standing down Theo Seremetidis, a former health and safety representative who raised concerns about worker safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Australian Council of Trade Unions, it is the first time in Australian labor history that a major airline has been criminally prosecuted for breaching workplace safety regulations.

The $250,000 fine follows an investigation by SafeWork NSW, an agency of the Department of Customer Service, after safety issues were raised by the Transport Workers Union (TWU). The union argued Seremetidis acted within his duties under the Work Health and Safety Act.

Half of the penalty fine will be paid by Qantas to the prosecution, along with legal costs.

Qantas will pay $21,000 in compensation to Seremetidis, of which $15,000 is for hurt and humiliation he suffered.

The Transport Workers’ Union of Australia says the unprecedented prosecution, conviction and penalty against Qantas show the need for a Safe and Secure Skies Commission to set standards in aviation and prevent further harm to airport workers.

One year after he was illegally stood down, Seremetidis was illegally outsourced with his co-workers.

TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said:

“It’s been three years since illegally sacked workers were forced to leave their jobs. They’ve been through unimaginable turmoil, and they must be fairly compensated.

“The unprecedented scale of this compensation case reflects the enormity of Qantas’ wrongdoing – by a country mile the largest case of illegal sackings in Australian corporate history.

“Despite the Federal Court, Full Court of Appeal and High Court unanimously ruling the outsourcing was illegal, Qantas has maintained that it did nothing wrong. Alan Joyce said he had no regrets – ‘not at all’. Richard Goyder praised the ethics of the board. Qantas has never ceased to inflict hurt and humiliation on these workers.

“The conduct of Qantas shows why we need independent oversight of aviation through a Safe and Secure Skies Commission to restore good, secure jobs and quality standards.”

Issuing a statement after the Sept. 19, 2023, High Court 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, Qantas said:

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.

(Qantas made a provision against this potential liability following the original Federal Court decision in 2021.)