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Qantas to face the music over standing down of safety rep

written by Jake Nelson | February 27, 2024

Theo Seremetidis (right) with TWU’s Richard Olsen. (Image: TWU)

The NSW District Court will hold a hearing on Wednesday to determine penalties for Qantas’ illegal standing down of a health and safety representative during COVID-19.

Judge David Russell in November found the major airline guilty of unlawfully standing Theo Seremetidis down over a direction he made to staff to cease cleaning planes that had landed from COVID-19 “hotspots”. Qantas now faces up to $1 million in penalties.

Seremetidis was stood down for a year in 2020 after telling cleaning staff not to clean planes from hotspots without adequate personal protective equipment, disinfectant or COVID-19-safe training, with a SafeWork inspection confirming that workers were only provided with water and a single rag to clean tray tables, according to the TWU.

The judge found that Qantas had discriminated against Seremetidis for exercising his powers as a health and safety representative.

“Whatever the outcome, Theo is a hero who stood up for the safety of his workmates, and then stood up against Qantas when the airline illegally stood him down,” said TWU NSW/QLD state secretary Richard Olsen.


“Although Qantas has often acted like it is untouchable, no company is above the law when it comes to safeguarding the health and well-being of its employees. It’s a reminder that corporations must adhere to the highest standards of safety protocols, without compromise.”

TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said Qantas has “historically had a large budget for fighting legal cases”, calling it “part and parcel of a business model that exploits loopholes and ignores the law”.

“With up to $1 million in penalties for standing down Theo, upcoming compensation and penalty hearings for 1700 illegally sacked workers, an ACCC prosecution and a class action ahead, Qantas can’t keep writing off legal bills as a cost of doing business – despite making an eye-watering $3.72 billion underlying profit in just 18 months,” he said.

“We need to see a complete cultural shift at Qantas and a Safe and Secure Skies Commission to restore balance, fairness and stability to our essential aviation industry.”

Qantas has said employees were provided with masks, gloves and gowns, but in a statement in November, acknowledged the court’s findings and said it would “review the judgment before commenting on it further”.

“We recognise that the initial stages of the pandemic caused a lot of uncertainty for our people, customers and the business more broadly,” the airline said.

“Our medical and safety teams worked tirelessly to provide daily updates to employees and to put effective controls and procedures in place to help protect our people and customers.”

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