Australia’s High Court found on Wednesday that Qantas fired 1,700 ground workers in violation of the law during the COVID-19 lockdowns, rejecting the airline’s appeal and paving the way for hefty compensation.
The 102-year-old airline is already facing criticism for skyrocketing ticket costs, claims that it sold tickets for flights that were canceled, and suspicions that it used political pressure on the government to prevent foreign rival Qatar Airways from adding more routes to Australia.
Despite its claimed “commercial imperatives,” Australia’s Federal Court determined this year that Qantas’s outsourcing of ground staff jobs during the height of the pandemic was unlawful.
The court ruled that Qantas had failed to show that one of the reasons for the mass firings was to stop the employees from initiating further strike action.
The High Court dismissed Qantas’ appeal after declaring that it concurred with that decision.
The Transport Workers Union (TWU), which filed a legal complaint against Qantas over the layoffs, applauded the ruling and demanded that the airline’s board be removed.
After 15 years in the position, former CEO Alan Joyce announced his resignation last week. He did so earlier than he had intended since Qantas’s reputation suffered despite record profits for shareholders.
Michael Kaine, national secretary of the TWU, stated that “Qantas employees have made history today.”
The airline cannot achieve the reset required for its survival with the same board that presided over the largest instance of wrongful dismissals in Australian corporate history, he added. “The Joyce administration has been destroyed.
“This board’s last action should be to take Alan Joyce’s bonuses away and then follow him out the door.”
‘Regret the personal impact’
He urged Vanessa Hudson, the new CEO of Qantas, to publicly apologize to the fired employees and promise to take a “speedy and non-adversarial” stance throughout court proceedings about restitution and fines.
According to Qantas, it “acknowledges and accepts” the High Court’s decision.
It issued a statement saying, “As we have stated from the beginning, we deeply regret the personal impact the outsourcing decision had on all those affected and we sincerely apologize for that.”
According to the airline, the reinstatement of the fired employees was already rejected by the Federal Court.
Qantas said that the court would “factor in” the redundancy payments it had already made when considering worker compensation and fines.
“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,” the statement read.
The possibility of a protracted crisis prompted Qantas to restructure its operations in order to increase its chances of surviving and eventually recovering.