Court upholds ruling against Qantas over Covid job cuts

Qantas has failed in an attempt to overturn a ruling that it illegally outsourced 1,700 jobs during the pandemic.

The High Court of Australia unanimously upheld that the carrier had unlawfully laid off staff at ten airports in November 2020.

The ruling found that Qantas breached Australia’s Fair Work Act, which protects employee rights.

Qantas said it “acknowledges and accepts” the High Court’s decision to uphold two prior rulings by the Federal Court regarding the legality of outsourcing the remainder of the airline’s ground handling function in 2020.

The Federal Court originally found that while there were valid and lawful commercial reasons for the outsourcing, it could not rule out that Qantas also had an unlawful reason – namely, avoiding future industrial action. 

The High Court has now effectively upheld this interpretation.

Qantas said: “The decision to outsource the remainder of the airline’s ground handling function was made in August 2020, when borders were closed, lockdowns were in place and no Covid vaccine existed. 

“The likelihood of a years’ long crisis led Qantas to restructure its business to improve its ability to survive and ultimately recover.

“As we have said from the beginning, we deeply regret the personal impact the outsourcing decision had on all those affected and we sincerely apologise for that.

“A prior decision by the Federal Court has ruled out reinstatement of workers but it will now consider penalties for the breach and compensation for relevant employees, which will factor in redundancy payments already made by Qantas.”

The ruling came a week after chief executive Alan Joyce decided to retire two months early as the carrier admitted its service standards had fallen “well short”.

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