Ruling over the Qantas outsourcing of 2,000 employees, the Federal Court gave its judgment in the favour of the Transport Worker Union, calling the move ‘unlawful’’ under the Fair Work Act. The Federal Court upheld the rights and livelihood of baggage workers, ramp workers, and cabin cleaners which were threatened by the devious replacement with contract workers during the COVID-19 pandemic last year. The Qantas outsourcing move jeopardized the sustenance and living conditions of airport staff across Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Darwin, Cairns, Townsville, Alice Springs, and Canberra.
Justice Michael Lee adjudicated the matter and concluded that the ‘outsourcing job’ decision was not entirely driven by commercial necessities. It was in some part influenced by the high union membership of the employees affected, leading to Qantas’ legal defeat against TWU.
The TWU called its judicial win a watershed moment for the aviation industry. Michael Kaine, TWU National Secretary announced that once the lockdown comes to an end, the Union will seek meetings with Qantas to ensure jobs for workers who were unceremoniously kicked out of their work.
Leading law firm Maurice Blackburn represented TWU in this case. Josh Bornstein, Principal Lawyer who led the case said that this decision will have far-reaching consequences. It has sent out a strong message for companies that such unscrupulous outsourcing methods deprive the workers of the ability to collectively bargain with the company for a new enterprise agreement or negotiate payments or working conditions.
Qantas (Australia’s largest airline) disagreed with the Federal Court’s ruling and declared that it will file an appeal against the decision. They maintained that the outsourcing job decision was motivated by lawful commercial reasons. In its defense, Qantas revealed the reason behind the outsourcing decision was to save up to $100 million a year which it desperately needs because of the financial crisis caused by COVID-19.
Qantas also attacked TWU’s stating that their case was based on a few documents that referenced industrial action, while neglecting the hundreds that don’t refer to industrial action as causation. It clarified that a company has to take into account all operational risks before making an important decision. A reference to the risk of industrial action cannot be assumed to be the only reason behind the decision.
Qantas will maintain its stand on lawful commercial reasons as their basis for challenging the court’s ruling. The court is yet to take a decision on whether to reinstate or provide compensation to the sacked employees.