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Outsourced Qantas workers unlikely to have roles reinstated, says Judge

written by Hannah Dowling | August 4, 2021
TWU Michael Kaine 1
The TWU’s national secretary, Michael Kaine

A judge has deemed that it is “unworkable” to expect the 2,000 Qantas ground handlers whose roles were outsourced will be reinstated, and hinted the appeals process could drag on for years.

Judge Michael Lee, who on Friday deemed Qantas’ decision to outsource the roles as partially unlawful due to upcoming enterprise agreement negotiations, made the comment after the TWU requested that Qantas be forced to return all 2,000 employees to their roles, or provide compensation.

“I’m struggling to see how you could deal with this matter … in a way that’s contemplated by the proposed orders,” said Justice Lee on Wednesday.

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He noted that it could take years for the matter to be completely resolved, following the airline’s promise to appeal the court’s decision, and questioned the feasibility of leaving all 2,000 people involved in a state of flux for such a period of time.

Justice Lee also stated the process of reinstating workers is further complicated by finalised redundancy payouts, the time that has passed and the fact that many affected workers are likely to have undertaken new jobs.

Industrial relations and employment barrister Matthew Follett, representing Qantas, agreed that it would likely be impractical and difficult to reinstate all outsourced workers, and requested that no decision on reinstatement be made until the court has heard Qantas’ appeal.

“You would need to look at where in the life cycle of employment each individual was, potentially what their state of health was, because if your honour is contemplating compensation for loss of opportunity to earn future earnings then contingencies need to be brought into account,” Follett argued.

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“We’re talking about a period of time since employment was lost and the circumstances of individuals in terms of alternative employment, alternative earnings, all of which would have to be brought into account in assessing the true value of compensation.”

Follett also stated that the return of cleaners, ground workers and baggage handlers would also be made difficult in light of the fact that the branch they were employed under, Qantas Ground Services, no longer exists.

Meanwhile, the TWU argued that there is precedent for Qantas to be ordered to reinstate the 2,000 workers in light of last week’s ruling.

Both parties have been ordered to propose how appropriate relief could be made.

The next hearing of the matter is scheduled for 18 August 2021.

Qantas has consistently stated that its decision to outsource the roles of more than 2,000 ground workers in 2020 was purely a commercial decision off the back of the COVID-19 pandemic, and was not made on the basis of upcoming collective bargaining negotiations.

However, the court on Friday deemed on the balance of probabilities, Qantas likely took into consideration the risk those workers would strike during such negotiations in its decision to cull roles, in violation of the Fair Work Act.

In his ruling, Justice Lee said, “Although I do not think that the intent of the outsourcing decision was to hobble the industrial influence of a perceived ‘militant’ industrial organisation, given the nature of the Union’s membership and its members’ roles, outsourcing ground operations to third party contractors would be an effective way of going about the fulfilment of such an aim.”

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10 Comments

  • Vannus

    says:

    The TWU can ‘huff & puff’ as much as they want, but that won’t change the situation one iota.

    Usually, if a staffer has accepted Voluntary Redundancy, & its’ accompanying $ pay-out, they sign a contract, & in that is a clause that they won’t be reinstated, in ANY position, at ANY time, with that business.
    The Company won’t give somebody largesse, for them to turnaround a few years’ later wanting to be re-employed by it.

    The Appeal process, at a minimum, could take months’, but as article above says years’, is probably closer to the mark.
    So the TWU is yet again, going to be wasting its’ members’ funds, & other political donations’, to pursue a court case it won’t win this time around.

    • Rocket

      says:

      @ Vannus

      Technically I believe there is a clause required that a person be given the opportunity to apply if the job is reinstated within 2 years but otherwise I agree with you and I expect this to be overturned on appeal.

      • Vannus

        says:

        Yes, Rocket true, but it depends in which year VR was taken, as the ‘wording’ has differed since the Company first activated VR, back in the early ‘80’s.

  • nolongerfeelslikehome

    says:

    Andrew David has been enacting the dismantlement of Qantas. The airline used to have a family feel but has routinely been taken over by ranks of managers looking to justify their roles at the sake of good old hard work. Outsourcing whatever they can and making the balance sheet look good to investors. The structure has become very top heavy and there are quite a few mates that shuffle their mates around at the expense of some really talented people. This case is the tip of the iceberg, hope they start looking into catering and other branches that were sold off to shrink their exposure to unions and retirement costs. I am sure there is a good level of creative accounting going on to make these “business cases”. Ground handling was expensive due to negligent management, a mixed fleet of equipment that was signed off by clueless bosses that didn’t consult operations teams to ensure they were choosing the right equipment for the need or even if new equipment was compatible with the tooling, aircraft and training. Instead of firing managers for signing off on useless deals, they decided to cover their backs and clean the sheet, offloading the mess when it got our of hand.

  • Rocket

    says:

    At what point did someone decide that what was perfectly adequately described as a job, now has to be labelled a role.
    You have a job in a company, you play a role in a movie.
    These staff were never coming back. Everybody contracts out these days, why should Qantas be any different.

    • Vannus

      says:

      Yea, Rocket, I concur!
      It’s similar to those businesses’ which call PAYING customers’, ‘guests’.
      Virgin does it frequently, which is very annoying here in this Country.

      Maybe those that use incorrect wording should buy a copy of the OED!

  • Rod Pickin

    says:

    The Honorable Justice appears to have fanned the flames of the TWU fury against QF in his judgement but his latest missive indicates by his own examples that, maybe he got it wrong; – I and most likely the majority of my ex colleagues would think so too. This matter should never have have proceeded from the chambers to the court.

    • Vannus

      says:

      Hi Rod, couldn’t agree more.

      I, too, thought his wording is a ‘back peddle’ in a large way indicating that the TWU will most likely lose on Appeal.
      And yes, the matter should never gone to a Court case in the first place.

      But the TWU likes to waste its’ members’ funds as much as possible with these spurious cases’ against QANTAS, which is a ‘revenge’ tactic, as it’s still smarting on the absolutely correct decision of CEO Mr Alan Joyce, & Board to ground the fleet, after THREE months’ of daily TWU strikes’, costing the Company millions’, & the abuse, both physical & verbal, levelled at staff, by disgruntled passengers’.

      TWU & its’ ilk, are dinosaurs’, & no longer relevant in today’s world.
      The sooner they lose a majority of membership, the better, as they do them no favours’ constantly.

  • Peter

    says:

    Judges in the pockets????
    Seems A Joyce has lots of friends. Next is take off the iconic kangaroo from the tail. Replace with leprechaun and a pot of gold!!

    How about a reduction in his salary!!!

    • Lindsay

      says:

      How about you reduce your incorrect, & silly assumptions.

      Why don’t you read the facts, where QANTAS CEO Mr Alan Joyce, & the Board took huge pay cuts ALL of last year?

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