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Qantas, TWU to enter talks around worker compensation next week

written by Naomi Neilson | September 20, 2023

Victor Pody shot these Qantas 737s, including VH-VZJ

Qantas and the TWU will begin mediation as soon as next week to decide on how much compensation the 1,700 redundant workers will receive.

It comes after the High Court unanimously upheld a ruling earlier this month that the Flying Kangaroo was wrong to sack the ground handlers during the pandemic and outsource the roles to external companies.

On Thursday, it was revealed that former Federal Court Chief Justice James Allsop will oversee the mediation discussions on payments to employees. However, those talks will significantly not include a discussion on penalties for Qantas.

Justice Michael Lee of the Federal Court set down a case management hearing for late October to hear the results of the mediation and flagged he would also “rejig” next year’s busy court calendar to secure an early penalty hearing.

“I delivered a series of judgments very quickly … and it has been delayed considerably by reason of appeals,” Justice Lee said.


‘There are 1700 people whose lives have been affected, together with their families, and I wish to see the matter resolved.”

In a letter to the Federal Court, counsel for Qantas requested the mediation take place within 14 days of Justice Lee’s order.

Mark Gibian, solicitor for TWU, objected to mediation, insisting that it should instead be heard “in open court”.

“It is obvious to everyone that this case involves the Union but it also affects the 1700 or so former employees … who were affected by Qantas’ conduct,” Mr Gibian said.

“[The TWU] are concerned about the process to resolve compensatory claims, which may not be transparent to those employees so they are in a position to know what has occurred.

“It is a serious concern the union has.”

However, Gibian said the union would be satisfied with the mediation if it was directed at compensation only and not penalties.

There was also a discussion from Qantas about swapping the attendance of an executive with an in-house lawyer “with authority to settle”, but this was rejected by Justice Lee.

“I don’t want it attended to by a lawyer.

“[Including executives], in my view, like in many mediations over many, many years, is appropriate in escalating it…to maximise the prospects of settlement,” Justice Lee said.

Justice Lee requested the parties have a “parallel conversation” to discuss what should occur if they are unable to reach an agreement.

It comes after the TWU national secretary, Michael Kaine, suggested earlier this week that new Qantas CEO Vanessa Hudson may apologise to the outsourced ground workers.

Speaking to 2GB, Kaine said he had spoken to Hudson on the phone following the High Court’s unanimous decision last week to dismiss the Flying Kangaroo’s appeal over the sacking of 1,683 employees in 2020–21.

“She was keen to acknowledge the hurt that the workers have been through,” said Kaine.  “She apologised for it.

“She said that she’d be willing to apologise directly to those workers in the future. And we’ll certainly hold her to that.”

The union boss said, however, that Hudson will also need to back up any apology with action.

“It’s got to be more than words – we’ve got to have a culture change. We’ve got to figure out how we bring good secure jobs back into aviation because, under the Joyce regime, we’ve had aviation jobs decimated,” he said.

“He created 38 separate entities, so rather than workers, as it used to [be], being engaged directly by Qantas – good, secure jobs for life, sometimes through generations of families – we’ve got this situation where just when we need to rebuild aviation, no one wants the jobs because they’re too poorly paid and they’re too insecure.”

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