Unions take Qantas to High court over sick leave

Sick Qantas workers will take the airline to the High Court today in an appeal to be able to take the sick leave they have built up over decades.

Qantas workers were stood down in March as COVID-19 devastated the airline industry but were denied their sick, carers and compassionate leave – despite still being able to access annual leave, long service and JobKeeper payments.

Seriously ill workers had their sick leave stopped in the middle of critical treatments and operations and some have since had to take redundancy from Qantas just to pay their bills.

One such worker is Peter Seymour who recieved an email from Qantas while he was recieving treatment for cancer that he was no longer to be paid sick leave and would instead recieve the much reduced Jobkeeper.

“I love my job but that was a huge smack in the face. I’ve worked for 31 years and had all that sick leave accrued but I was treated just like a number. I could not stay on Jobkeeper because I’ve got bills to pay so I was forced to take redundancy from the company. I’ve just turned 64 and I still have to work, I now have to find a job,” he said.

The case is being taken after a dissenting judge in the Federal Court judgment, stated workers in Australia could be denied protections and entitlements because of the decision, and warned about “far-ranging effects… across all manner of leave entitlements”.

With the full support of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) the appeal to the High Court is being brought by Maurice Blackburn on behalf of the Transport Workers Union (TWU), the Electrical Trades Union (ETU), the Australian Workers Union (AWU) and Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU).

Quotes from ACTU Assistant Secretary Scott Connolly:

“Seriously ill Qantas workers have been left devastated after the company refused to allow them to use the sick leave they’ve built up over many years.

“These workers include a man who has been battling cancer and another with heart disease, who both have over 30 years’ service with the company.

“Qantas’ behaviour toward the most unwell people in its workforce has been callous and illegal.

“That’s why we fully support this bid to have this matter heard in the High Court.

“This appeal is not just important for Qantas employees who’ve been unfairly denied access to their own sick, compassionate, personal or carer’s leave, it’s critical to all workers in Australia who may be stood down in the future.

“Stand downs are meant to be strictly limited to particular circumstances, but even in those circumstances workers should not be prevented from taking leave or being paid their basic entitlements.

“That’s why this case must be fought all the way to the High Court. Qantas, and all employers must be held to account to ensure that entitlements for workers are not put at risk, now or in the future.”

Quotes from TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine:

“Qantas has received over $800 million in taxpayers’ support to help it during the pandemic but instead of acting like a responsible employer in return it is trashing lives and trashing jobs.

“Denying sick workers the leave they have built up and pushing them in some case out of their jobs in order to access redundancy payments to pay bills is utterly despicable. The Federal Government could tie conditions to the public money it is pumping into Qantas to force it to act responsibly but it is choosing not to.”

Quotes from AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton:

“Loyal Qantas workers suffering through illnesses and injuries had one certainty in their sick leave.

And Qantas management took that right from them.

We are taking this fight to the highest court in the nation so we can restore this certainty for our members.”

Quotes from ETU National Secretary Allen Hicks:

“We make no apology for continuing our pursuit to right these wrongs. This is another very important step in the fight to ensure every worker in this country can access their sick leave when they need it most.

“Sick workers deserve to be treated with dignity, respect and support – something that is sadly lacking from Qantas senior management. They should hang their heads in shame.”

Quotes from AMWU National Secretary Steve Murphy:

“It adds insult to injury for sick Qantas workers who now have to defend their right to sick leave entitlements in the High Court.

“Essential workers stepped up during the year from hell, now Qantas is out-of-control, leaving it’s sick workers behind during their time of need – at Christmas.”

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