A trade union has its guns aimed squarely at Qantas following the airlines’ decision not to pay sick leave to furloughed workers. The Transport Workers Union (TWU) had Qantas in court yesterday. In a hearing before the Fair Work Commission, part of The Federal Court of Australia, union legal counsel urged the court to force Qantas to pay sick leave to stood down workers.
“It is an utter disgrace that Qantas workers, some of whom have worked with the company for several decades and are now battling very serious illnesses, have been refused sick leave in this way,” said Michael Kaine, TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine.
Workers entitled to some forms of paid leave, but not sick leave
In March, Qantas stood down about 25,000 workers until at least the end of May. The airline made some allowances available to these workers. They included access to paid annual and long service leave. There is also provision for workers to access annual and long service leave in advance. Other forms of support are also being made available.
What Qantas is not paying is sick leave. Within days of standing its workers down, the airline told workers that it would not be paying sick leave. Qantas’ view is that you have to be working to receive the benefit, and the furloughed workers are not working. In a statement, Qantas said;
“Employees who are stood down are not eligible to receive paid sick leave because there is no work for employees to be absent from, but they can access annual, long-service leave and other support.”
Trade Union not happy with Qantas’ stance
That stance has raised the ire of the TWU. It took Qantas to court on Tuesday, saying the decision was heartless and piled financial pressures on workers already struggling with illness.
The TWU submitted statements to the Federal Court of Australia yesterday from various Qantas workers. These include a worker battling cancer and another baggage handler from Perth, awaiting surgery for a triple bypass. Both are Qantas veterans, having worked at the airline for around thirty years.
“I do not understand why I cannot use my personal leave to continue to cover this period,” the baggage handler said in his statement to the court.
“I probably wouldn’t be able to get a job at the current time because of my heart condition and because there are so many others without my condition also looking for work.
Both men received about four days of sick leave payments after been stood down.
“The attack on workers battling serious illnesses completes the picture of how Qantas has behaved since the virus outbreak began. It has treated its workers like expendable cogs in its machine,” Michael Kaine said.
Union accuses Qantas of picking and choosing
The TWU’s view is that Qantas cannot pick and choose what forms of leave they will pay while its workers are stood down. The union’s legal counsel argued yesterday that Qantas was breaching provisions of Australia’s Fair Work Act.
“If Qantas were correct that an employee has no ordinary hours during a stand-down period, no form of leave would be able to be taken during such a period,” Mark Gibian SC, told the court yesterday.
Not that Qantas is necessarily worried. The airline’s CEO, Alan Joyce, told Sky News in March that the TWU wasn’t relevant to Qantas.
The Federal Court has reserved its decision.