The Federal Court has confirmed that it will begin to hear evidence on the reinstatement of the 2,000 outsourced Qantas workers from 13 December this year.
The decision means the 2,000 ground workers, baggage handlers and cleaners who had their roles outsourced will find out if they’ll make an extraordinary return to the airline by the end of the year.
“We’re dealing with a very large number of people who need to have some certainty about their lives,” Justice Michael Lee said on Friday.
“And I’ve got to do everything I can, it seems to me, to give them certainty as quickly as possible.”
Justice Lee noted that regardless of the outcome, a further appeal is likely to be made, making it even more paramount to have a reinstatement ruling made by year-end.
“If I heard a reinstatement case in the middle of December, I would make it a discipline, on me, to deliver a judgement before Father Christmas comes … which allows for the disappointed party to appeal.”
“I think it’s the responsibility of all parties to see whether or not that can be achieved.”
These remedy hearings will see the TWU and Qantas provide evidence over whether the outsourced workers should have their roles reinstated at the airline. Other means of compensation will be discussed at a later hearing, if necessary.
The union has continued to push for the unlawfully outsourced workers to be reinstated at the airline.
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Meanwhile, Qantas has repeatedly suggested that it would likely be impractical and difficult to reinstate all outsourced workers, given that it has now been at least eight months since those workers were let go from Qantas, and also given that the branch they were employed under, Qantas Ground Services, no longer exists.
The union has been pushing for the Federal Court to set the hearing to occur before the end of the year, while Qantas requested to delay hearings until 2022.
Qantas earlier attempted to delay such remedy hearings, which pertain to the reinstatement or compensation of the unlawfully outsourced ground workers, until after the court had officially heard its appeal. This attempt was unsuccessful.
Justice Nye Perram ruled in that hearing that any delay to proceedings, including reinstatement proceedings, could see prejudice against the union, giving Qantas the opportunity to introduce greater changes to its business, possibly making reinstatement even more difficult to enforce.
Justice Lee referred to this ruling in his decision to prioritise the remedy hearings and hear evidence on reinstatement before the end of this year.
The court has requested that the TWU present just three test cases or case studies, highlighting the personal effect of Qantas’ outsourcing decision.
This is despite the TWU offering to provide up to 15 case studies and Qantas requesting over 20 test cases to be presented as evidence at the remedy hearing for reinstatement.
In addition to the test cases, the TWU will prepare and conduct a survey on the preferences of the ground workers involved in the case, on what outcome they would want to see in terms of reinstatement and compensation.
Earlier, the Federal Court approved a request by the TWU to see a decision before the end of 2021, with Justice Lee arguing that he wouldn’t allow such a large amount of people to have their lives “put on hold”.
“If that means that we have to work during the holidays, then maybe we’ll have to work during the holidays,” he said.
In July, the Federal Court ruled Qantas had violated the Fair Work Act in making the redundancies and largely found in favour of the TWU, which claimed the decision to outsource employees was done partly to prevent them from being able to negotiate a new enterprise agreement and take industrial action. Qantas has consistently denied it has done anything unlawful.
The airline has highlighted that it was “actively recruiting” into its ground handling business and “investing in new equipment” before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, signalling it had no intention to outsource these workers prior.
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