SYDNEY AIRPORT
SYDNEY AIRPORT

Qantas wins legal stoush with union

Qantas could not have prevented the stand-down of over 400 maintenance workers during the COVID pandemic, a court has ruled as the airline scored a legal win over a union.

The Federal Court on Tuesday ruled that the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association (ALAEA) was "disingenuous" after it argued that Qantas should be held responsible for the decision to stand down staff after its business was decimated by border closures and movement restrictions.

Qantas was seeking a declaration that it could not have "reasonably" prevented or be held responsible for the decision to stand down 333 Qantas and 113 Jetstar maintenance engineers for one month earlier in the year.

They were stood down at the time around 20,000 other employees including pilots, cabin crew and ground staff were also stood down.

 

QANTAS terminals have remained largely empty during the COVID pandemic. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Joel Carrett
QANTAS terminals have remained largely empty during the COVID pandemic. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Joel Carrett

The airline argued during a hearing last month that it would have faced severe financial hardship had it continued to operate with a full workforce and it would have prevented them from resuming at full capacity once the pandemic does subside.

The airline's barrister Rowena Orr QC told the court that if they continued to operate, the company would have extinguished its cash reserves and gone broke in eight to 10 weeks

Justice Geoffrey Flick ruled that Qantas could not be held responsible for the downturn in travel and passenger numbers which limited its ability to operate.

"Given the substantial downturn in passenger flights, there was no other option 'reasonably' open for Qantas or Jetstar to pursue.

"Neither Qantas nor Jetstar could obviously be held responsible for the downturn in international and domestic air travel and neither Qantas nor Jetstar could 'reasonably' have prevented the stoppage of work which occurred."

According to its enterprise agreement, the airline was able to stand down any worker who could not be usefully employed because of a stoppage which it could not reasonably prevent.

However the union challenged the stand-down, saying it was in the airline's control to continue flying.

ALAEA barrister Lucy Saunders said the measures were taken to "protect their viability" and "improving their profitability", despite noting the substantial decline in customers.

However Justice Flick said the stand down was "a necessity forced upon them"

"It is, with respect, disingenuous to suggest that the action taken by the airlines was action within their 'own volition'," Justice Flick said.

Originally published as Qantas wins legal stoush with union


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