Unions to stand against Qantas in High Court over “wage theft”

On January 13, 2021, Australian unions announced that they were set to face Qantas in the High Court over alleged misuse of the JobKeeper subsidy program. Unions are convinced that workers have been left out of pocket. 

Unions claim that Qantas underpaid many of its workers by more than $10,000 each by subsidising their overtime payments with the government’s JobKeeper subsidy scheme. They argue that workers should instead receive full value for working public holidays, weekends and overtime, and also get JobKeeper payment in the fortnights they don’t work.  

Transport Workers’ Union (TWU), Flight Attendant Association of Australia (FAAA), the Australian Services Union (ASU) and the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) are involved in the legal action.

“We are asking the High Court to put a stop to this wage theft and return the money into the pockets of Qantas workers,” ASU statement read. “What Qantas has done has cost many workers more than $10,000 – money they have earned by working long hours and night shifts which Qantas has simply pocketed.”

“They have deliberately manipulated the Jobkeeper so they don’t have to pay workers a dollar more than the public subsidy,” TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said. 

“Qantas is forcing workers to work public holidays, weekends and overtime and then effectively denying them overtime and other penalties they have earned,” ACTU Secretary Sally McManus said, the West Australia reported.

The JobKeeper Payment scheme is a government subsidy for businesses significantly affected by COVID-19. Qantas received more than $267 million in JobKeeper payments to subsidize workers’ wages.

In response to the allegations, Qantas said that unions’ decision to go to the High Court is a waste of time.

A spokesperson for the airline said the unions were “again wasting their members’ money and our money on continuing this legal action during the middle of a crisis”, ABC News reported. “We have always paid penalty rates and overtime in the same way. This is not something we just started doing during COVID.”

In August 2020, Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) demanded for Qantas CEO Alan Joyce resignation amid Qantas alleged abuse of the JobKeeper scheme and together with Australian Services Union (ASU) took Qantas to Federal Court.

In September 2020, the unions’ won the Federal Court. However, Qantas appealed the Court decision and won the Federal Court appeal in December 2020. 

AeroTime News reached out to Qantas Airways for comment and did not receive any answer at the time of publication.

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