Qantas faces multi-million-dollar compensation claim from former employees

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Australia’s flag carrier Qantas has been told to expect a multi-million dollar lawsuit to be filed against it by a group of workers who were laid off by the carrier and whose jobs were outsourced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A trade union representing almost 1,700 former Qantas employees plans to launch the legal action against the carrier shortly in which the Transport Workers Union (TWU) will sue the country’s national airline in the Federal Court over what it says is “the largest case of illegal sackings in Australia’s corporate history”.

As previously reported by AeroTime, an Australian court previously found Qantas had contravened the Fair Work Act by its decision to outsource the roles of almost 1,700 ground workers who were employed by the airline across ten Australian airports in late 2020. Qantas had stated that the outsourcing would save more than $100 million a year to help cope with the impact of the pandemic on air travel. Although the airline fought the case at every stage, it lost its final appeal in September 2023.

With the legal action getting underway on March 18, 2024, the court was expected to hear three test cases of workers who were laid off by the airline to determine an appropriate level of financial compensation that could be applied to the rest of the outstanding claims.

The TWU’s lawyer, Josh Bernstein, has said that the compensation to be paid by the carrier should be “very, very substantial, running into the many millions of dollars”. Meanwhile, TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said some workers had “lost properties” and had “family breakdowns” as a result of losing their jobs.

“These workers have been dragged to hell and back through two painful unsuccessful deals, through a failed mediation process,” he said. 

Bornstein said one of the key issues to be dealt with by the court was the assertion by Qantas that it would still have been forced to let workers go during the pandemic if it had not outsourced their roles.

“We argue that the workers would have remained in employment for a significant period and as a result are entitled to a significant amount of compensation,” he said.

Qantas detailed that it will begin replacing its Airbus A380s in the early 2030s
Mehdi Photos / Shutterstock

During the start of the compensation hearing, the court heard that 716 of the dismissed workers were members of the TWU at the material time. However, the court noted that some of them would likely have found alternative work within the industry and also retained their union membership. The judge said he had made efforts for the claim to be heard at the earliest possible time to allow workers to be paid any compensation quickly.

In response, and striking a conciliatory tone, Qantas, through its legal team, said the airline wanted the former workers to receive “fair compensation as quickly as possible”.

“Qantas sincerely apologizes and deeply regrets the personal impact the outsourcing decision had on these former employees,” a spokeswoman said in a statement.

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