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High Court: Qantas unlawfully sacked 1,700 workers during the pandemic

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The court was considering an appeal from Qantas, who had already lost twice before the Federal Court and the Full Federal Court.
qantas high court 1,700

The High Court has found Qantas acted illegally when it sacked roughly 1,700 baggage handlers in 2020.

The court was considering an appeal from Qantas, who had already lost twice before the Federal Court and the Full Federal Court.

Today, the High Court unanimously rejected the appeal.

Background

In late 2020, Qantas sacked about 1,700 airport ground staff and outsourced their work to contractors.

Qantas had a commercial reason for its decision. The airline was “bleeding cash” at the time due to the pandemic and wanted to save money by outsourcing.

However, the Transport Workers Union (TWU), which represented many of the staff, argued Qantas had carried out the sacking in breach of the workers’ legal rights.

TWU noted the sacking came at a time when, for administrative reasons, the workers were unable to take ‘industrial action’ (e.g. a strike).

Workers have a legal right to approved forms of industrial action, and it is illegal for an employer to deny them those rights.

The TWU argued Qantas deliberately and illegally sacked the workers at a time when they could not take action. In 2021, a Federal Court judge agreed. Qantas appealed to the full Federal Court, where three judges also found in the TWU’s favour.

High court

The High Court is Australia’s highest legal authority and final place of appeal.

In a judgment published today, the Court unanimously agreed Qantas’ appeal should be dismissed.

The Justices agreed Qantas’ sacking decision was motivated at least in part by the fact the workers could not exercise their right to industrial action.

What it means for Qantas

The Federal Court has already ruled out reinstating the workers. Now, however, they are entitled to seek compensation on the grounds they were illegally dismissed.

In a statement, Qantas acknowledged the decision and said it would consider arrangements for compensation.

“We deeply regret the personal impact the outsourcing decision had on all those affected,” the airline said.

In a post on X, the TWU called the decision “a massive victory for the workers who have not stopped fighting for justice since they were outsourced.”

Damien, a sacked worker speaking outside the Court, called the decision “vindication“.

“Now everybody knows how Qantas treats its workers,” Damien said.

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