A 30-year Qantas veteran undergoing cancer treatment is among a group of workers who have lost a Federal Court case against the airline for denying them sick leave during the coronavirus pandemic.
Justice Geoffrey Flick agreed with the business that its stood down staff can’t claim their accrued entitlement because it depends on work being available to be absent from.
The TWU, one of the unions that brought the action, described the ruling as “bitterly disappointing” and said it would appeal the decision. It called the move to deny them leave “heartless”.
Qantas said in a statement, “Unfortunately, Coronavirus has meant the majority of our employees have been stood down and not receiving their regular income. Employees can still access annual leave, long service leave and other support including the Government’s JobKeeper payments.”
Other claimants involved in the case included a man with 35 years’ service awaiting a triple bypass.
However, the judgement was strongly in favour of Qantas due to the company legally having the right to stand down employees because of the coronavirus crisis.
The ruling stated, “It is the very characterisation of the leave entitlement conferred by s 96 as a ‘form of income protection’, which presupposes that an employee is in receipt of income. As Qantas has repeatedly submitted, and correctly so, ‘income’ is not being protected if there is no available or required work from which to derive income in the first place.”
TWU national secretary Michael Kaine 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. We are looking to appeal this judgment and seek redress for these workers.
“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. Qantas is taking harsh management decisions that are heaping concerns on already anxious, ill workers.”
The cancer sufferer, who has asked to remain anonymous, first began working for the airline in 1989 and was due to start seven weeks of treatment on 5 April.
He earlier said the decision to deny him the leave, which he had already accrued, has caused stress to both himself and his family.
The second employee mentioned is on a waiting list for a triple bypass heart surgery, and has also accrued enough to cover his absence. He started his service with Qantas in late 1984, and claims to have rarely been unwell in that time.