Sick Qantas workers look to appeal pay dispute in court

The TWU is looking to appeal a court ruling backing in a Qantas decision to refuse sick leave to workers battling illnesses.

Workers, including a man battling cancer and another awaiting a triple bypass both with over 30 years work at Qantas, took the case over the airline’s refusal to pay them sick leave during the stand down period.

TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said the TWU was focused on getting justice for Qantas workers, some of whom are dealing with critical illnesses.

“The ruling is bitterly disappointing for Qantas workers battling serious illnesses and their families, who are enduring worries about their finances at a difficult time in their lives. We are looking to appeal this judgment and seek redress for these workers. This is about justice and the fact that workers who are battling serious illnesses should be allowed to draw down the significant sick leave they have accrued through years of hard work at Qantas,” Kaine said.

“Qantas is taking harsh management decisions that are heaping concerns on already anxious, ill workers. The airline’s heartless move on sick leave mirrors other actions since the pandemic crisis began, including ignoring workers concerns about the virus, threatening with sacking workers who raise concerns, refusing to implement appropriate systems to prevent virus clusters and arbitrary implementation of the stand-downs. Qantas is proving itself to be an irresponsible employer and unfit to be the main player in Australian aviation,” Kaine added.

Qantas sent its workers correspondence shortly after it announced it was standing workers down last month, stating that: “Sick/carer’s leave will not apply during any period of stand down, so you will continue to be stood down and will not be entitled to any sick/carer’s leave payments.”

Safe Work NSW is investigating Qantas over its suspension of a cleaner for raising concerns over the spread of COVID-19.

SafeWork NSW issued Improvement Notices on Qantas, reflecting the airline’s “inadequate system of work used to clean planes” with aircraft cleaners forced to wipe tray tables with the same dirty cloths and handle blood, vomit, soiled nappies, used masks and tissues without protective gear. The Regulator’s Improvement Notices stated that Qantas was at risk of exposing workers to an infectious disease.

A dossier compiled by TWU safety experts revealed systematic failing in how Qantas dealt with an Adelaide Airport cluster, which saw 34 workers infected and over 750 quarantined.

Qantas delayed a deep-clean by almost three days of common areas of the baggage room after the first infection case was confirmed; workers who had been exposed to the first infected worker over several days involving close contact were directed to continue turning up for work. Qantas repeatedly referred in communications to its workers that the risk of infection and spread was “low”, even comparing the virus to the “seasonal flu”. The airline stressed “normal processes” were adequate in dealing with the virus and relied on putting up notices about hand-washing rather than providing training or protective gear to workers.

At least 60 people nationally across the Qantas Group have been infected with the virus.

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