A consortium of unions have lost an appeal to allow Qantas workers, including a 30-year veteran undergoing cancer treatment, to claim sick leave while stood down.
Federal Court Justice Steven Rares and Justice Craig Colvin agreed with an earlier ruling and said it would be “paradoxical” to allow employees to claim time off work during a period when no work was able to be carried out.
Significantly, the case highlighted the plight of a man with 35 years’ service awaiting a triple bypass alongside another man battling cancer.
The TWU, one of the organisations who brought the claim, said the ruling was a “slap in the face” for a company “with a CEO who earned $24 million”.
“The ruling will devastate these workers, many of whom are battling serious illness and are struggling to pay bills and support their families,” said national secretary Michael Kaine.
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.
Qantas defended its position arguing that employees stood down do have access to JobKeeper, annual leave and long service leave.
“COVID-19 and border restrictions have meant the majority of our employees have had no work for months,” it said in a statement. “The company has taken on more than $2 billion dollars in debt as revenue has collapsed. It’s been an incredibly difficult time for everyone.
“We understand that some employees will be disappointed today, but there’s now been two courts who have confirmed that employees who are stood down are not eligible to receive paid sick leave because there is no work to be absent from. This is not just true of Qantas, but across the economy.”
The original ruling in May 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.”
Earlier this week, Qantas and Jetstar said its flying schedule will rebound to 60 per cent of pre-COVID levels and it would add an extra 1,200 return flights following Queensland’s decision to open to Sydney and Victoria. The news will mean many stood-down workers will return to employment.