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Workers win as sacking of 1,700 Qantas workers ruled illegal


Australian transport unions have today won a huge victory in court, as the sacking of 1,700 ground and baggage staff by Qantas has been proven to be illegal. This is a massive victory for the workers who have not stopped fighting for justice since they were outsourced. 

The unanimous decision was handed down by Australia’s seven High Court judges, the largest illegal sacking in Australian history. 

The case was brought by the Transport Workers Union (TWU) in a long legal battle in which two Federal Court rulings found that Qantas’ outsourcing of jobs during the pandemic breached Australia’s Fair Work Act, motivated by a desire to eliminate TWU members from bargaining and protected industrial action.

Stephen Cotton, General Secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) welcomed the win: “We absolutely welcome the news that the courts have found Qantas guilty of union busting. Let this be a lesson to other companies looking to exploit workers for corporate greed – unions fight for workers, and unions win for workers.”

“Congratulations to the TWU and the brave Qantas workers – their struggle is an inspiration to aviation workers everywhere. Rampant outsourcing to cut costs and devastate labour standards will not win. In this case it’s illegal and it’s unsustainable. The industry must reform if it is to be economically, socially and environmentally sustainable in the future, and that will only happen if aviation workers’ rights are respected, and their contribution recognised.”

Qantas has seen huge challenges with its baggage handling over the last 18 months. The Australian Council of Trade Unions reported today that since the mass sacking, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission reported that complaints about Qantas and their services soared by 68 percent in 2022. 

Michael Kaine, National Secretary of the TWU, said today: “The High Court has now found Qantas responsible for the largest case of illegal sackings in Australian corporate history.”   

“The Qantas Board and Alan Joyce must be held accountable for the devastation they have caused these workers and their families. The final act of this board should be to strip Alan Joyce of his bonuses and follow him out the door."

“Decisions in aviation need to be made in the interest of the Australian community and workers. An independent Safe and Secure Skies Commission, and closing loopholes in the Fair Work Act would ensure that decisions like Qantas’ outsourcing can’t be made again, and that Australia’s aviation industry works in the interest of the Australian people.” 

The legal battle will now return to Australia’s Federal Court where it will resume to determine how much compensation former Qantas workers will receive and what action is taken against the airline.

Edgardo Llano, ITF Civil Aviation Chair and General Secretary of Argentian union Asociación del Personal Aeronáutico (APA): “The airline industry’s recovery and its sustainability in the future will greatly rely on the respect given to those workers who keep it moving worldwide. This case is a wakeup call for the industry.”

“We need urgent reform in this industry to close loopholes in laws that companies like Qantas exploit. We now look to the Australian Government’s legislation to regulate outsourcing, eliminate unfair undercutting of employment standards and deliver same jobs: same pay. Let this be an example for governments and aviation employers worldwide.”

Qantas Airways posted a record $2.47bn full-year underlying profit, because of strong post-Covid travel demand and high ticket prices. These levels of profit have paid for massive financial dividends for the board, while the workers who lost their jobs have had their lives devastated.  

The Australian Federal Court will resume hearing claims for compensation for the illegally sacked workers. Michael Kaine told reporters in Canberra the TWU will now seek “significant” compensation and penalties in the federal court.  

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About the ITF:  The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) is a global, democratic, affiliate-led movement of 740 transport workers’ unions recognised as the world’s leading transport authority. We fight passionately to improve working lives; connecting trade unions and workers’ networks from 150 countries to secure rights, equality and justice for their members. We are the voice of the 20 million transport workers who move the world.