Qantas appeals illegal outsourcing in High Court

Outside view of Qantas headqarters.
MDRX, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Australian national flag carrier Qantas has taken to the High Court today to challenge two Federal Court rulings which found its axing of 1700 ground worker jobs, and the subsequent outsourcing of labour unlawful.

High Court hearing begins


A High Court hearing which commenced today will put outsourcing on trial as Qantas attempts to overturn two previous Federal Court rulings which had ruled against the carrier.

Previously the Australian federal court found that the airlines axing of 1700 ground and fleet presentation workers was unlawfully intended to prevent workers accessing their rights to collectively bargain and take possible protected industrial action.

Workers have now been out of their jobs for over two years after Qantas rushed through the outsourcing process, completed in March 2021 despite a Federal Court challenge brought by the transport workers Union (TWU) already underway.

The Federal Court judgment ruled in the union’s favour, and referred to evidence showing Qantas saw the pandemic as a “vanishing window of opportunity” to outsource the jobs.

The mass exodus of skilled and experienced workers has subsequently caused major airport chaos and serious safety breaches at the outsourced labour providers.

These third-party operations pay workers less and have struggled to fill enormous worker shortages. Since the outsourcing by the Australian national carrier, several ground handling incidents received media attention.

Ground handling incidents


In September, the TWU exposed a dossier of potentially life-threatening safety incidents at Swissport.

Incidents included undocumented dangerous goods loaded onto planes, firearms unloaded onto baggage carousels, stairs removed while passenger doors were open, aircraft weight imbalances, cargo doors left open before take-off, and collisions with refuelling hoses.

An ACCC report showed complaints against Qantas rose 68 per cent for FY22, while complaints about Virgin Australia fell 27 per cent.

Qantas has also nosedived in Roy Morgan’s “Net Trust” ratings, falling 31 places from 9th to 40th most trusted brand.

The final determination


As far as the court system goes, the High Court is virtually the end of the line for the challenge.

TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said the High Court will determine once and for all whether Qantas management’s appalling axing of essential workers was also the largest case of illegal sackings in Australian history.

“Workers have stood strong for the long-haul throughout this painful and drawn-out battle. While some of the workers will be present in Canberra, the eyes of the nation will also be watching this last-ditch attempt by Qantas to disprove that it illegally sacked 1700 workers,” Kaine stated.

“This race to the bottom driven by Joyce-led Qantas shows the urgent need for a Safe and Secure Skies Commission to set fair and appropriate standards for aviation,” he said.

Acting for the defendants, Principal Lawyer Giri Sivaraman said, “Qantas lost this case on the facts. Now it’s trying a legal argument to get the High Court to reduce protections in the Fair Work Act to make its actions lawful.”

Qantas recently reported a record $1.4 billion half-year profit, more than double the profit reported in February 2020 prior to the pandemic.

It was recently announced that Alan Joyce is set to stand down as Group CEO when he retires later this year.

Joyce will receive a $24-million pay packet this year when he steps down, against a backdrop of apparent brand damage, poor performance and illegal sackings at the airline during his tenure as CEO.

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