Qantas has tugged at many Australians’ coronary heart strings with its promoting marketing campaign about reuniting household and associates. It dangles the prospect of travelling abroad, and of 1000’s of Australians nonetheless stranded abroad coming residence.
However the airline is preventing exhausting to not carry again 1000’s of jobs it unlawfully outsourced throughout the pandemic. After shedding a Federal Court docket case over sacking of two,000 floor crew in 2020, it continues to vigorously oppose reinstating the employees, with an enchantment within the works.
Its advertising could also be heartwarming, however its method to its workforce is hardheaded.
Granted, its enterprise has been clobbered by border closures and journey restrictions. Final month it introduced a loss for 2020-21 of A$1.73 billion. Simply because it was getting its home operations again into gear, most interstate journey was halted by the Delta outbreak.
However many companies have confronted comparable dilemmas because the pandemic started 18 months in the past. Few have been as harsh as Qantas in coping with workers.
A confrontational method
Since standing down 20,000 of its 30,000 employees in March 2020, Qantas has taken a usually confrontational method to wages and entitlements.
For instance, it precluded stood-down staff from accessing their sick depart, even when they’d contracted coronavirus whereas working, after which vigorously defended this determination within the courts.
It adopted a slender interpretation of its cost obligations to workers below the JobKeeper scheme. It has additionally taken a top-down method to mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for workers, in distinction to the extra consultative method of rival Virgin Australia.
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However its most grievous motion has been to make use of the chance of the pandemic to completely shed itself of about 2,000 largely unionised staff.
This transfer got here within the context of constructing 8,500 jobs redundant. Within the case of the two,000 jobs carried out by baggage handlers, tug drivers and cleaners, nonetheless, their work wasn’t disappearing; it was being outsourced to third-party suppliers at ten Australian airports.
The very fact Qantas undertook these mass sackings whereas receiving JobKeeper, a program designed to make sure companies retained their workers, ensured controversy would attend its determination.
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Breach of the Honest Work Act
On behalf of the two,000 workers who misplaced their jobs, the Transport Staff Union challenged the airline’s determination to outsource ground-handling employees within the Federal Court docket.
To make its case, the union employed Maurice Blackburn employment lawyer Josh Bornstein, who helped the Maritime Union of Australia win the waterfront dispute of 1998, when stevedoring firm Patrick Company locked out and sacked union members en masse.
Counting on statutory provisions just like these used to nice impact within the waterfront dispute, the union argued Qantas had seized a “vanishing window of alternative” supplied by the pandemic to outsource all floor employees.
The Federal Court docket’s ruling, made on July 30, largely agreed with the union. It discovered a purpose for the airline’s determination to outsource the employees was to forestall them from exercising essential office rights; particularly the appropriate to have interaction in collective bargaining and to take protected industrial motion.
This positioned Qantas in breach of the Honest Work Act.
The authorized battle is way from over. The Transport Staff’ Union has asking the Federal Court docket to order the reinstatement of the two,000 floor crew workers and compensate them for losses suffered because of Qantas’s illegal conduct.
Qantas has different concepts. At a case listening to on Wednesday, Qantas continued to vigorously oppose reinstatement. It additionally lodged an utility for depart to enchantment the Federal Court docket’s July determination, and desires the court docket to halt any additional consideration of reinstatement till an enchantment is set.
This makes the prospect of the sacked staff getting their jobs again within the close to future unlikely.
However despite the fact that this case has a protracted technique to play out, the Federal Court docket’s ruling towards Qantas represents an essential and overdue verify on many years of enterprise outsourcing initiatives which have undermined staff’ job safety and pushed down wages. Such enterprise methods eradicate the necessity for administration to barter wages with staff.
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By outsourcing, an organization can unilaterally set the value it’s prepared to pay for the work. It might probably advise a labour rent supplier that, if the value isn’t acceptable, it is going to search aggressive tenders. The downward strain is finally borne by the employees.
We’ll have to attend to see if the Qantas staff get their jobs again. However within the meantime the ruling ought to give every other employer tempted to reap the benefits of COVID purpose to suppose once more.
Anthony Forsyth receives funding from the Australian Analysis Council. He’s a member of the Advisory Committees of the Centre for Future Work (Australia Institute) and the Carmichael Centre (Australia Institute).