A union-led court action against Qantas failed yesterday when Australia’s Federal Court ruled in favor of the airline. The Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) had taken Qantas to court because the airline had stopped paying some of its employees their sick leave. In March, Qantas had stood down the majority of its 30,000 employees.
Qantas pays out holiday leave, draws line at paying sick leave
The airline did allow stood down employees who’d accrued long service or holiday leave to access that, but it discontinued paying other forms of leave, saying there was no work for them to be on leave from. In April, Qantas told its employees;
“Sick/carer’s leave will not apply during any period of stand down, so you will continue to be stood down and will not be entitled to any sick/carer’s leave payments.”
One of those employees was a man fighting cancer who’d been with the airline for 30 years. The Adelaide-based baggage handler was on paid sick leave before been stood down. He was one of many employees who had their case taken to court by the TWU.
Other employees included a Perth based man awaiting a triple bypass and another man trying to access carer’s leave to look after a six-month-old baby and a wife who’d just suffered a stroke.
The Federal Court agrees with Qantas
But the court found yesterday that the employees are not entitled to their leave payments, agreeing with the Qantas argument that there is no work for them to take leave from.
Justice Geoffrey Flick said yesterday that if Qantas had to pay leave entitlements after standing its employees down, it would have defeated the purpose of standing them down.
“If there is no work available to be performed by the employee, there is no income and no protection against that which has not been lost,” Justice Flack said
“The ruling is bitterly disappointing for Qantas workers battling serious illnesses and their families, who are enduring worries about their finances at a difficult time in their lives,” said TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine yesterday.
“This is about justice and the fact that workers who are battling serious illnesses should be allowed to draw down the significant sick leave they have accrued through years of hard work at Qantas.”
The unions flay Qantas’ position
Mr Kaine flayed Qantas yesterday following the ruling. He called the airline an unfit and irresponsible employer. In addition to discontinuing sick leave payments, he accuses the national carrier of arbitrary implementation of the stand-downs, ignoring workers’ concerns about the virus, refusing to implement appropriate systems to prevent virus clusters, and threatening to sack workers who raise concerns.
Qantas acknowledges that many of its employees have been adversely impacted. But the airline notes that those who have accrued holiday and long service leave can access that. It also points out that the Australian Government JobKeeper payments (AUD$1500 per fortnight) are available to eligible employees.
Several unions were party to the action in addition to the TWU. One was the Australian Workers’ Union. Its national secretary, Dan Walton, yesterday called the decision shameful. Another union, the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union, said Qantas’ approach was cruel.
The Transport Workers’ Union says it is considering lodging an appeal.