Qantas staff fighting the airline’s vaccine mandate in Federal Court will not be protected from losing their jobs while the case is being heard, a judge ruled.
A group of 24 Qantas Group employees filed legal action against Qantas in the Federal Court on Friday and applied for an urgent interim injunction to prevent Qantas from enforcing the policy until a ruling has been determined.
The group, which includes pilots and engineers from both Qantas and Jetstar, have claimed that the mandate violates the Fair Work Act and privacy laws.
It comes after Qantas in August announced that all frontline staff across the group, including pilots, cabin crew and ground services workers would be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by 15 November, or face dismissal.
Three of the 24 workers have already been let go from the company, while a further two are taking leave without pay. The remaining 19 have been stood down and are having their employment reviewed.
After lodging their class action case with the Federal Court, the unvaccinated workers also applied for an urgent interim injunction to prevent Qantas from enforcing disciplinary action under the policy, allowing them to keep their jobs throughout the legal proceedings.
At an interlocutory hearing on Monday, the class action’s solicitor Rob Grealy argued that Qantas had “failed to undertake sufficient investigation into the safety of the available vaccines” before implementing the company-wide mandate.
“We also say the requirement that employees provide copies of the vaccination certificate to be uploaded to a database is a breach of the Privacy Act,” Grealy argued.
However, when pressed on his claims that the COVID vaccines are unsafe, Grealy was unable to produce supporting evidence.
Justice Kylie Downes replied that the claim made was “based on his assessment … There’s no evidence before me from an expert saying this.
“It’s your opinion, and you’re a solicitor.”
The court also heard the unvaccinated workers argue that overall, government public health orders were not lawful, due to being “inconsistent with other legislation which takes precedence”.
However, the group were “unable to identify with precision the other legislation” they were referring to.
Meanwhile, lawyers representing the Qantas Group believed the class action is a “challenge that would fail” but did not oppose the application to delay further dismissals until after the court proceedings had been completed.
The court heard that Qantas undergoes a six-stage process with staff that have chosen not to get the vaccine, with termination being the last option.
Ultimately, Justice Downes dismissed the application, due to insufficient evidence that the workers would suffer harm if the immediate injunctions weren’t granted.
Justice Downes told the court it was “difficult to understand” why the applicants waited until after the policy deadline to make an application for “urgent relief” from disciplinary action.
“The applicants have been aware since July but certainly by no later than September that the Qantas Group would require them to be vaccinated as a condition of their continued employment,” she said.
Justice Downes added: “There are a number of employees presently going through a ‘review of employment’ process and have been directed not to attend work. That is because they fail to meet the public health orders which are applicable to them in their employment.”
“On the other hand, the Qantas Group is seeking to comply with what it understands to be lawful public health orders and directions imposed by the states where it operates its business,” the judge said.
The trial to determine the legality of the vaccination mandate is expected to begin in March.