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Qantas loses bid to overturn illegal outsourcing ruling

written by Hannah Dowling | May 4, 2022

Two Qantas A330s, as shot by Victor Pody
Two Qantas A330s, as shot by Victor Pody.

The Federal Court has again ruled that Qantas’ decision to outsource 2,000 staff was illegal and in breach of the Fair Work Act.

It came as the airline on Wednesday lost an appeal to the landmark decision reached last year, and brought by the TWU.

However, the union significantly failed in its own bid to get redundant staff reinstated, and said it would switch to fighting for a “substantial compensation package” for the workers who lost their jobs.

Qantas removed internal ground handling operations in early 2021 at the 10 Australian airports where the work was done in-house, which included Adelaide,  Brisbane and Melbourne. It led to a furious response from the TWU, who eventually took the matter to court.

The resulting case, which concluded in August 2021, ruled that Qantas had violated section 341B of the Fair Work Act, which protects employees’ rights to bargain and take protected industrial action.

On Wednesday, the Full Court supported its original decision, and specified that Qantas was required, under the Fair Work Act, to prove that there was “no prohibited reason for the outsourcing”.

It came in light of intended protection action due to take place in 2021 by the ground handlers.

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At the same time, the Full Court again ruled that reinstatement of workers would be inconvenient and difficult, given that Qantas has dismantled its Qantas Ground Services and offloaded its equipment.

The court also stated that it is highly likely that Qantas would, in the future, move to again outsource or otherwise offload these workers, making financial compensation a far better outcome.

Remedy hearings to instead discuss any compensation due to the impacted workers and penalties taken against Qantas will soon take place.

In response to the ruling, TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said Qantas workers had achieved a “huge victory”.

“After a horror 18 months having lifelong careers savagely and illegally ripped away from them, workers stood tall and took on one of the harshest and most powerful companies in the country,” he said. “Today those workers have been heard, vindicated, and celebrated for their courage.”

Kaine labelled Wednesday’s ruling as “emphatic” and stated, “There is only one appropriate response from the Qantas board – heads must roll.”

Qantas first announced it was considering axing its remaining ground-handling operations in August 2020, subject to hearing bids from both private contractors as well as existing staff, before confirming the decision later that year.

The job losses came in addition to the 6,000 jobs initially made redundant, which represented nearly 20 per cent of its pre-pandemic workforce.

The TWU then took the matter to the Federal Court, which ruled in August 2021 that Qantas partially violated the Fair Work Act in outsourcing the roles.

The union argued that the decision to outsource employees was done to prevent them from being able to negotiate a new enterprise agreement and take industrial action. Qantas consistently denied it did anything unlawful.

The TWU though repeatedly argued its members wanted their old jobs back, with Kaine telling Australian Aviation there would not be too much ill-feeling between the airline and ex-employees.

It joins a growing list of public feuds between Qantas and unions, which came to a head after photos surfaced of long-haul cabin crew sleeping under makeshift blanket forts in the passenger cabin of an A330 flight from Brisbane to LA, due to COVID-related supply chain issues, meaning private crew rest areas are currently not functional.

Australian Aviation understands that this fact has contributed to ongoing tension between international cabin crew unions and Qantas, in a feud that has seen Qantas turn to its New Zealand-based crew to cover Australian flights, largely the Brisbane-Los Angeles route which uses the A330’s extended range.

One day prior, Qantas blamed international cabin crew unions as the reason it has had to turn to overseas-based crew, which have less bargaining rights.

“A small amount of flying is being done by New Zealand-based crew because the union was not prepared to support Australian-based crew working on longer routes with some of our A330 aircraft, including the Brisbane to Los Angeles route, on terms that we were able to agree to,” said Qantas executive manager, cabin crew, Rachel Yangoyan.

“We wanted to have our Australian-based crew do this flying, but without the union’s support for this to happen, we’ve instead had to use New Zealand-based crew on some of these flights.”

It comes after Qantas in January applied to the Fair Work Commission to have its international cabin crew enterprise agreement ripped up entirely due to “unworkable” rostering conditions coded into the existing EBA, which limit the types of aircraft that crew can operate on.

In response, Flight Attendants’ Association of Australia, which is responsible for negotiating the new EBA, said that the union has never had a problem with changing this aspect of the contract, however has taken issue with other parts of Qantas’ proposal.

The union earlier overwhelmingly rejected Qantas’ proposed EBA, with over 97 per cent of respondents voting “no” to the deal.

Comments (2)

  • phodge

    says:

    So Qantas has closed its Ground Services Unit and disposed of the equipment. Did they break the law according to the court decision. Well, yes they did! They should now be forced to reinstate the Ground Services Unit and to re-employ the dismissed workers. No ifs or buts about it! This is a disgraceful chapter in the patchy industrial history of Qantas and is another example of Joyce’s right wing excesses. Time for this man to go.

  • Seriosdude

    says:

    Alan Joyce MUST GO!

    There is no place for a dictatorship running QANTAS in Australia! QANTAS took – and never paid back – one cent of the JobKeeper money – yet here they are cutting staff numbers – and being found out – AND DISGRACED by the Federal Court of Australia!

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