Unions are appealing to the High Court in one final attempt to allow Qantas workers to claim sick pay while they are stood down.
It can also be revealed that the man at the heart of the dispute, a 30-year company veteran undergoing cancer treatment, has claimed he had no choice but to accept redundancy.
The news comes after the TWU, AWU, ETU and AMWU lost the last hearing in the Federal Court, which ruled in November it would be “paradoxical” to allow employees to claim time off work during a period when no work was able to be carried out.
Peter Seymour said he received an email from Qantas while he was undergoing treatment for stage 5 prostate cancer stating that he was no longer to be paid sick leave and would instead be transferred to the lesser JobKeeper.
“I love my job but that was a huge smack in the face,” Seymour said on Wednesday. “I’ve worked for 31 years and had all that sick leave accrued but I was treated just like a number.
“I could not stay on JobKeeper because I’ve got bills to pay so I was forced to take redundancy from the company. I’ve just turned 64 and I still have to work, I now have to find a job.
Seymour earlier said the situation got so bleak he had to borrow $600 from his family for a vital scan.
“My managers tried fighting it and the union got involved, but he’ll do anything to stop it happening,” said Seymour, referring to chief executive Alan Joyce. “It’s disgraceful. I’ve worked for 31 years and had sick leave accrued. You’re not staff anymore, like it used to be. You’re a number. That’s his whole attitude.
“It got to the stage when I finished my treatment into remission but I could not stay on JobKeeper because I had bills to pay so I was forced to take redundancy from the company. I’ve turned 64 and I still have to work and try and get a job. I’m just dumbfounded by what Mr Joyce has done.”
Another employee at the heart of the dispute was 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 very first 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.”
Speaking on Wednesday, TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said, “Qantas has received over $800 million in taxpayers’ support to help it during the pandemic but instead of acting like a responsible employer in return it is trashing lives and trashing jobs.
“Denying sick workers the leave they have built up and pushing them in some case out of their jobs in order to access redundancy payments to pay bills is utterly despicable. The federal government could tie conditions to the public money it is pumping into Qantas to force it to act responsibly but it is choosing not to.”
Fly into Spring with Australian Aviation’s latest print edition. Starting from $49.95 a year, you can read comprehensive coverage on all sectors of the industry to keep you in the loop. Get your hands on the subscription today. Subscribe now at australianaviation.com.au.