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Qantas wins sick pay case brought by veteran employee battling cancer

written by Adam Thorn | May 18, 2020

Qantas Boeing 787-9 VH-ZNJ lands in Sydney after flying nonstop from London. (Qantas)
Qantas Boeing 787-9 VH-ZNJ lands in Sydney after flying nonstop from London. (Qantas)

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.

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Comments (26)

  • John


    It’s the law, not Qantas. Qantas can now take a decision whether it wants to make ex gratis payments to sick employees but it’s no use interfering with how the law is written because it will just lead to unintended consequences. Let the Fair Work Commission work it out.

    • Warwick


      John, you’re a breath of fresh air, in response to many ‘emotional’ comments’.
      QANTAS can’t just ‘break rules’ to suit itself. Rules, as laws, must be implemented correctly by Companies’.
      If there weren’t rules, the world would be in chaos.

      • Nick


        Actually quants can pay them sick leave but choose not to and use the law to back up the weak excuse not to pay out very loyal employees. No against the law but very piss weak in everyone’s views.

    • Pedro J


      Narrowly interpreted, but what about the situation when an employee who is told by his employer to get a COVID test (whether for close contact or exhibiting a symptom), and has to absence himself or herself for 3 days. The test comes back negative – he wasn’t sick so does this ruling then imply he was being stood down for 3 days.

  • Pete


    It’s pretty piss-weak that Qantas would even take this to court. SHAME!

    • James


      They didn’t. The unions did

    • James


      Pete, you’ve got it wrong-way-round!
      The employees’ took QANTAS to Court. Therefore, the Company had to defend.

  • Greg


    Legally right, but seems to lack heart, or even the Aussie “fair go”, in my opinion.

  • TD


    Qantas may be legally correct but the intent of sick leave that has been accrued should be accessible from what is an Australian airline ; not the Aussie way to not help out a loyal long time professional. The worker only wanted to use what was his for a live saving treatment. If I was the CEO I’d pay him myself until the Covid crisis reversed itself. What’s a mere few thousand from millions in this case. Seems the Aussie spirit is lost in today’s management practices. Remember it is the workers entitlement to save his life.

  • Adrian


    These employees’ thought they’d win against their employer, QANTAS.
    They probably won’t win on appeal either, so why do so?
    The TWU gave them possibly ‘false hope’ of a win.

    They, along with 1000’s of other QANTAS employees’, were STOOD DOWN.
    There’re rules governing sick leave at a time like that, written many, many years’ ago, so these people would’ve known those rules.
    Ignorance is not bliss.

  • Paul De Mott


    The employees accumulated sick leave over a period of time worked .Also Qantas is still operating at a limited level.This ruling seems very unjust!

    • Julian


      Paul, it’s a simple rule.
      Stood down staff can’t access ‘Sick Leave’. It’s irrelevant when they accrued the sick leave.
      It’s not unjust, it’s legal.

      • Paul De Mott


        The employee has 30 years service legal arguments aside if one can’t see the moral injustice so be it, there are of course other avenues to pursue ie superannuation and Centrelink payments Ijust hope the employee health gets better!

  • Kim


    Like it or not. This is the right decision
    They are not working and are in-effect suspended
    Sick leave is to take time away from work to recover.
    If you not at work you don’t get paid. Sorry

    • Stephen Prosser


      If you look at it logically why would a company pay sick leave to ex employees who don’t work for them anymore… the union has a lot to answer for giving them false hope that was never going to materialize, shame on them..

      • Ryan


        Your first sentence is confusing.

        ‘Ex employees’? They’re STILL employed, but in a stand down situation, which is different to any other employment status.
        During this time, Sick Leave is NOT permitted.

        20000 QANTAS staff have been STOOD DOWN, due COVID-19 pandemic.
        Therefore their jobs are being HELD for them by the Company, until the crisis is greatly reduced.

  • Andrew


    It may be the union or the employees that brought the case, rather than Qantas.

    As mentioned above, Qantas may be looking at ways to help the employees in other ways.

  • Sure isn’t the Qantas I worked for. The law is the law, however if you had a heart you might just bend the rules in cases like this. I gave AJ the finger sometime ago and have been completely satisfied with the much better competition. Qantas no longer has a heart, shame it was something Australians could be proud of, sadly no longer..

    • Jayden


      Gary, you sound like a very unhappy previous QF staffer. What did they ‘do’ to you?
      What a shame you feel like this.

      I’ve a good friend who worked for them for a very happy 35 years’. The pride he had in his employer was fantastic.

      Current stood down employees’ have a job to return to post covid-19. Not too many Companies’ here will be able to do that.

  • Js


    Legal or not, the CEO has the power to grant the leave regardless. Why? Because that’s exactly what they have done in the past with crediting back employees leave in circumstances where the CEO and Board have seen fit. The total number of employees who fit into this category is tiny. What an awesome legal win for a company with over $4 billion in cash. I’m sure they feel totally vindicated and can see how much of a PR ein this is.

  • Bruce


    Sick leave is some thing we don’t take if we are serious about our job what it is for times like this not like most good sunny go lets go fishing. Everdently good loyal service by the company has not been rewarded

  • Doug Green


    “If I was the CEO I’d pay him myself ..”

    Just consider the consequences of that – never ending stream of requests for help on the basis of “you helped him so why not me…”

    “…if you had a heart you might just bend the rules in cases like this”

    Bend the rules – you open the floodgates. Harsh but true.

  • Gregory Bradley


    “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.”

    Surely then it follows that annual leave, long service leave etc must depend on work being available to be absent from?

    • Adam


      Your ‘thinking’ is erroneously fraught…..
      Different Federal laws’ apply to each Annual Leave, & Long Service Leave.

      They are totally separate, & different to, Sick Leave laws.
      Don’t have the space here to go into the nitty-gritty of them, but you could always ask a professional advisor to do so……….

  • Roderick Paul SWAN


    What people seem to forget is that some of these people were on sick leave BEFORE the stand downs for COVID. I can, maybe, understand if you go sick after being stood down but certainly not before.

  • David


    Qantas is a charitable organisation which should bend the existing industrial rules and pay? Seriously, who thinks this garbage up. The union should hang their heads in shame.
    As a 33 year Qantas veteran I have virtually never found them to be anything other than fair and reasonable. They’ve been a fabulous company to work for, and I feel very proud to be part of that.
    The simple unavoidable fact is that all airlines around the world are in dire straits. Many won’t survive. Luckily Qantas is in a fairly good position financially for now, but goodness only knows when international flying will resume at anything more than a tiny trickle. It’s FAR too early yet to even say for sure that Qantas will survive covid-19, as there is a hell of a long way to go on this thing. Some experts are even saying it will be 2023 before flying looks anything like 2019- and that’s a long time away, with aircraft and equipment leases, staffing expenses etc all ongoing. The decision was a no brainer, and should never have even gone to court in the first place.

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