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Qantas tells court sackings were always on the table

written by Naomi Neilson | March 19, 2024
Victor Pody shot this Qantas 737-800 and A380 at Melbourne.

Qantas has told the Federal Court that 1,700 ground staff illegally terminated during the COVID-19 pandemic may have been let go at a later date.

Counsel for Qantas, Richard Dalton KC, said even in a world where the illegal sackings never occurred, the executive team would have still considered outsourcing its ground handling operations.

Dalton’s comments were made after the Transport Workers Union claimed it would have met with Qantas in late 2020 or early 2021 to secure better job protections in this “counterfactual world” scenario.

However, Dalton said the impact of the pandemic on the airline meant cost-saving measures were always going to be considered.

“The Qantas group executive team were looking at worst-case scenarios,” Dalton told the Federal Court on Tuesday afternoon.

“In that context, in the counterfactual world, this option would have been back on the table for consideration at the time.”

The submissions were made as part of Qantas’ attempts to limit the compensation it owes to the workers it sacked in November 2020.

Earlier in the day, assistant national secretary and national secretary of TWU’s NSW and QLD branches, Nicholas McIntosh, set out a scenario in which the union and Qantas would have met after the events of November 2020 to discuss an in-house bid.

McIntosh said the bid, prepared with assistance from Ernst & Young, aimed to secure better job security provisions for staff.

It would have also proposed to combine the Qantas Airways and Qantas Ground Staff enterprise agreements into one.

However, Qantas accused McIntosh of assuming it would have entered these discussions without knowing what the outcome of the pandemic on its ground handling operations would have been.

McIntosh dismissed this, insisting it knew the “territory it was in”.

“We were on the same dance floor. We might have been a long way from the band, but we were there,” McIntosh said.

McIntosh added TWU would have been prepared to negotiate terms with Qantas, and would have even gone so far as to drop its argument to consolidate the enterprise agreements if it meant it could secure job protection for the staff.

Qantas accused McIntosh of embellishing his evidence so workers would receive more compensation, but McIntosh rejected this.

“It is the position of the TWU that in the largest illegal sacking … we want to see people compensated to the fullest degree that His Honour (Justice Michael Lee) finds appropriate,” McIntosh said.

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