A hearing will be held today to determine if unions will be granted leave to appeal to the High Court on behalf of sick Qantas workers seeking to access their full leave entitlements after being stood down during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thousands of Qantas workers were stood down in March 2020 as the pandemic devastated the airline industry but were denied their sick, carers and compassionate leave – despite still being able to access annual leave and long service.
Some seriously ill workers had their sick leave stopped in the middle of critical treatments and operations, while others have since had to take redundancy from Qantas to pay their bills.
The case is being brought by Maurice Blackburn Lawyers with the full support of the ACTU on behalf of the Transport Workers Union (TWU), the Electrical Trades Union (ETU), the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU).
The case is being taken after a dissenting judge in the Federal Court judgment, stated workers in Australia could be denied protections and entitlements because of the decision, and warned about “far-ranging effects… across all manner of leave entitlements”.
The case follows Qantas’s announcement yesterday that it will cut more jobs and impose a two-year wage freeze on workers, despite receiving $2 billion in federal public funding.
Workers are also taking Qantas to the High Court over its misuse of Jobkeeper and over the outsourcing of 2,000 workers, so it can pay other workers less.
Quotes attributable to ACTU President Michele O’Neil:
“In the peak of the pandemic some seriously ill workers had their sick leave ruthlessly stopped by Qantas – this forced some workers to take redundancy to pay for critical treatments and operations. The right thing for Qantas to do now is pay back workers.
“The High Court needs to clarify this case not just for Qantas workers, but for all workers who could unjustly lose their sick, carers and compassionate leave if stood down in the future.”
Quotes attributable to TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine:
“We are hopeful that the High Court will hear this case and rule in favour of sick Qantas workers who spent years accruing leave only to have it denied when they fell seriously ill.
“Qantas will this year have received $2 billion in hand-outs from the Federal Government with no conditions attached on how the airline treats its workers or what it pays its already obscenely wealthy executives. The Federal Government and the Qantas board may have no interest in holding senior management to account but workers will through this High Court challenge.”
Quotes attributable to Peter Seymour, a former Qantas worker forced to take redundancy last year when he battled cancer and was denied sick leave:
“It was very hard being forced out of the job I loved and had done for over 30 years. But I had no choice given they took away my sick leave while I was in the middle of my cancer treatment. I’m still angry about it and I hope the High Court can back us workers and tell Qantas that what they did was wrong.”
Quotes attributable to Daniel Walton, AWU National Secretary:
“These men and women earned their sick leave through hard work, we can’t let it disappear via some tricky corporate sleight of hand.
“We need the High Court to hear this case and deliver justice for the workers Qantas has treated with contempt.”
Quotes attributable to ETU National Assistant Secretary, Michael Wright:
“Qantas has shown its contempt for workers - denying them sick leave at the very time they’re most likely to need it. These workers should have every right to access that support when they need to.
“Workers were already hit hard by the pandemic so why should they suffer even more? The ETU will continue to fight for the rights of these workers until we get a fair outcome.”
Quotes attributable to AMWU National Secretary Steve Murphy:
“Sick workers deserve to be treated with respect and should have full access to their entitlements. Qantas have acted inhumanely by denying workers their sick leave at their time of need and during a pandemic and they should be held to account.”
“Qantas have the ability to fix this today. Workers should not have to go to the federal court to get access their sick leave.
“The ‘spirit of Australia’ doesn’t have much spirit today. This hugely profitable company - an Australian icon - is trying every trick in the book to deny workers their most basic entitlement."
Quotes from Maurice Blackburn Principal Giri Sivaraman:
“It is vital to resolve the wider questions underpinning the rights of these Qantas workers who have unfairly been denied their full leave entitlements.
“We are very hopeful this important case can be heard in the High Court to clarify these questions not only for impacted Qantas workers, but for all workers who may be stood down in future.”
Media contact: Paddy Murphy at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers on 0490 297 391 or Judith Crosbie at the TWU on 0432 552 895.