Qantas’ lawyers have accused the Transport Workers Union of falsifying evidence in an ongoing court case that could see 2,000 former Qantas ground workers reinstated to their roles at the airline.
The allegation was made in a preliminary proceeding, before the two parties return to court on Monday to begin remedy hearings, which will see the court determine whether or not the workers should be reinstated to their jobs.
It comes after the TWU in July won its landmark case against Qantas, when the Federal Court ruled the airline’s decision to outsource 2,000 ground services workers, including baggage handlers and cleaners, was made in partial violation of the Fair Work Act.
Qantas has appealed the ruling, as promised, however the court is steaming ahead with its remedy hearings this coming week, while the appeal hearing is slated for February.
The TWU revealed last month that 78 per cent of the outsourced ground workers in question wish to have their jobs reinstated at Qantas, according to an independent survey that has now been submitted to the Federal Court as evidence.
However, Qantas’ legal team has argued that surveyed workers were being encouraged to vote “yes” regardless of their intentions to return to their old roles, via posts in a Facebook group entitled “Qantas Staff Past and Present”, according to a report by The Australian.
One post in the group allegedly stated, “we NEED everyone to say they are interested in REINSTATEMENT”, alluding to the survey.
While the post was found not to have been made by TWU officials, Qantas argued that the union had “encouraged, solicited or incited” the posts, to “artificially inflate the number of affected employees who responded to the survey in the affirmative”.
The Qantas legal team said the court should therefore not view the survey as credible, in light of such Facebook posts.
In light of this, Justice Michael Lee ordered that those individuals who made the posts, or responded to them in a similar vein, appear before the court during the remedy hearings.
Justice Lee also ordered the TWU to provide details of any direct communication it had with those individuals.
Without yet forming a final decision on the matter, Justice Lee said he was “very, very concerned” about the allegations made by Qantas, that the TWU “sought to procure false evidence before the court”.
“I regard that as very serious,” Justice Lee said.
Remedy hearings are due to begin Monday, 13 December, and run for a period of five days.
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.
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.
In addition to the independent survey, 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.
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.
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.