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We had to outsource to survive, says Qantas after court defeat

written by Jake Nelson | September 13, 2023

Qantas chose Swissport as its preferred partner for ground services in 2020. (Image: Swissport)

Qantas has admitted defeat after its High Court appeal over the outsourcing of almost 1,700 ground workers during the pandemic was unanimously dismissed.

In a statement, the Flying Kangaroo apologised for the personal impact of the sackings and accepted the High Court’s verdict, but maintained that the “restructuring” of its business was necessary for its survival.

“The Federal Court originally found that while there were valid and lawful commercial reasons for the outsourcing, it could not rule out that Qantas also had an unlawful reason – namely, avoiding future industrial action. The High Court has now effectively upheld this interpretation,” a spokesperson said.

“The decision to outsource the remainder of the airline’s ground handling function was made in August 2020, when borders were closed, lockdowns were in place and no COVID vaccine existed. The likelihood of a years-long crisis led Qantas to restructure its business to improve its ability to survive and ultimately recover.

“As we have said from the beginning, we deeply regret the personal impact the outsourcing decision had on all those affected and we sincerely apologise for that.”


While the 1,683 workers will not be reinstated as per the Federal Court’s prior decision, the High Court will consider penalties for Qantas’s breach of the Fair Work Act 2009 as well as compensation for affected employees, factoring in redundancy payments that Qantas already made.

Josh Bornstein, principal at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, which represented the sacked workers, said the Flying Kangaroo had “profited significantly from its illegal conduct” while it fought the case all the way to the High Court.

“Qantas argued in the High Court that it should be permitted to sack workers merely because they wanted to bargain with the airline. Had the appeal succeeded, it would have greenlighted the further de-unionisation of the labour market by big business,” he said.

“When companies outsource workers like Qantas, they effectively avoid having to bargain with their labour. Instead, they engage labour hire agencies and dictate to those agencies what they are willing to pay for labour.

“Outsourcing has been one of the reasons that employees have lost the ability to obtain real wage increases. Qantas engaged in a collective bargaining avoidance scheme and thankfully, the High Court has recognised that it was illegal.”

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