‘Cruel’: Union boss’ call on Qantas case

Qantas and the Transport Workers’ Union face a two-day hearing in the High Court. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Geraghty

A leading union has launched a scathing attack on Qantas’ outgoing chief executive as a landmark court hearing gets under way over the airline’s dismissal of 1700 employees during the pandemic.

“This is the human toll of this cruel, cruel (Alan) Joyce administration,” TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said, alongside a group of sacked Qantas employees, outside the High Court on Tuesday.

In a previous statement, the TWU said Tuesday’s High Court hearing represented an attempt by Qantas to overturn two previous Federal Court rulings that found its axing of 1700 workers was unlawful.

TWU national secretary Michael Kaine outside the High Court on Tuesday morning. Picture: Supplied: Facebook / Transport Workers Union

“Today the High Court will be asked to determine once and for all whether Qantas outsourcing is not just cruel, irresponsible and bad for business, but whether it’s confirmed as the largest case of illegal sacking in Australian history,” Kaine said on Tuesday.

“(Qantas) They’re going to try and overturn two decisions of the Federal Court, one from the full Federal Court, that said that 1700 workers represented here … were illegally sacked so that Qantas did not have to bargain with them, and did not have to face the prospect of those workers exercising their workplace right to take protected industrial action,” he said.

Mr Kaine said the TWU would ask the High Court to dismiss Qantas’ appeal.

The TWU said Qantas was trying to overturn two earlier ruling that found its sacking of 1700 staff was unlawful. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Gary Ramage
The TWU said Qantas was trying to overturn two earlier ruling that found its sacking of 1700 staff was unlawful. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Gary Ramage

“In essence, we’ll be saying that the Fair Work Act is designed to protect workers, to allow them to exercise their workplace rights, not to give companies like Qantas open slather to sack workers and prevent them from exercising those rights.”

Mr Kaine said the sacked workers he stood beside were the “human toll of this cruel, cruel Joyce administration”.

The Australian reports the hearing will run for two days.

The TWU took action against the airline in 2020 and won consecutive court battles despite Qantas arguing the decision was needed to deliver savings in a time of financial hardship due to the pandemic.

In a statement, Qantas said the company lost $25bn in revenue during the relevant period and could not avoid making “significant changes”.

“This matter centres around Qantas’ ability to legally outsource a part of its business to save more than $100m a year at a time when the airline’s survival was not assured,” the statement said.

“When we made this decision we were still in the depth of the pandemic and there was very little certainty about when our recovery would begin.

“Ultimately we lost $25bn in revenue so there was no way to avoid having to make significant changes.”

The Qantas statement said the Federal Court had accepted the company had “lawful and compelling commercial reasons” for outsourcing but was not convinced that preventing the industrial action in 2021 was not relevant in the decision to outsource.

“We have always rejected this, which is why are taking our appeal to the High Court,” Qantas said in the statement.

“We’ve always acknowledged that it would have been very tough on our ground handlers and the thousands of other employees who lost jobs because of the pandemic.”