Sydney: Qantas Airways illegally sacked almost 1,700 ground workers during the pandemic, Australia’s top court ruled, delivering a further blow to the reputation of the country’s most-complained-about business.
The High Court of Australia on Wednesday dismissed Qantas’ appeal against an earlier judgment that found the airline axed the employees unlawfully. Qantas now faces penalties and compensation payments to affected workers.
Qantas outsourced ground-handling operations at 10 Australian airports in late 2020 as the pandemic brought aviation to a standstill. Union leaders argued workers were axed to avoid looming negotiations over pay and conditions and potential strikes.
The ruling comes days after Australia’s competition regulator sued Qantas for allegedly selling fake seats on thousands of flights it had already canceled. CEO Alan Joyce brought forward his departure over the claims.
Shares in Qantas were up 0.5 per cent at 11 am Sydney time.
After Wednesday’s ruling, Transport Workers Union National Secretary Michael Kaine called on Qantas Chairman Richard Goyder and the airline’s entire board to quit. The carrier holds its annual general meeting on November 3.
“Serious consequences should flow from this,” Kaine told reporters outside court. “This has been a spiteful corporate dictatorship.”
Kaine said Joyce should be stripped of his bonus and his successor, Vanessa Hudson, should apologize and push through payouts to workers affected by the illegal sackings.
In a statement, Qantas said it accepted the High Court’s decision.
We deeply regret the personal impact the outsourcing decision had on all those affected and we sincerely apologize for that
“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,” Qantas said. “The likelihood of a yearslong crisis led Qantas to restructure its business to improve its ability to survive and ultimately recover.”