Win for workers: TWU holds Qantas to account for replacing employees with cheap contract labour

Maurice Blackburn Lawyers

Leading law firm Maurice Blackburn Lawyers today welcomed a Federal Court judgment that ruled Qantas’ outsourcing of 2,000 workers is unlawful under the Fair Work Act.

The case was brought on behalf of baggage handlers, ramp workers and cabin cleaners by the Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) after Qantas cynically replaced them with contract workers during the COVID pandemic last year.

Maurice Blackburn Lawyers Principal Josh Bornstein, who led the legal case, said it will have far-reaching consequences.

“This decision is a legal first. The Federal Court has found for the first time that a major employer has sacked over 2000 workers because it was seeking to deprive them of the ability to collectively bargain with the company for a new enterprise agreement. It is also the first successful challenge to a major corporate outsourcing exercise in 20 years.

“We put Qantas’ outsourcing on trial and Qantas lost. Large companies have used outsourcing for decades to prevent employees from being able to collectively bargain with them. As a result, employees have lost the ability to obtain proper wage rises. Once Qantas outsourced its workers and sourced them indirectly from labour hire agencies, it did not have to bargain with ground staff again,” Mr Bornstein said.

The Court will now consider whether to reinstate and or compensate the sacked employees.

“The judgment has sent a strong message that companies cannot simply avoid collective bargaining by sacking their workers and engaging other workers through third parties. This is a significant victory for employee rights for employees across Australia.

“Had Qantas been successful, it would have no longer had to negotiate pay and conditions with these workers. It would have been able to unilaterally impose a price for the services of outsourced workers, and those outsourced workers would not be allowed to bargain with Qantas.

“The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the plight of insecure labour hire and outsourced workers: they aren’t paid properly, they work in unsafe conditions and they are forced to scrounge a living working at multiple jobs. Qantas decided to pour petrol onto that fire while in receipt of one billion dollars in Jobkeeper payments.”

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