Qantas: unions to launch suit in federal court over sick pay for stood down workers
As if the COVID-19 crisis, a ‘me too‘ claim for AU$4 billion of government funding and the survival of the airline wasn’t enough. Now, the Qantas Engineers Alliance Unions made up of the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU), the Electrical Trades Union (ETU), and the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) today announced they intend to file an application in the Federal Court over Qantas’ refusal to pay sick leave to workers who have been stood down.
Last weekend, the Qantas Engineers Alliance Unions wrote to Qantas about the sick leave on stand down, and the flexibility to take long service leave in shorter blocks (e.g. 1 day or 4/5 day blocks) issues.
Qantas so far has refused to alter its position on either issue.
On the basis of legal advice, the Alliance Unions have decided to file an application in the Federal Court to dispute Qantas’s interpretation of the National Employment Standards (NES) on accessing sick leave while stood down.
Qantas is refusing to pay sick leave if workers get sick while stood down. The Alliance unions are calling this a breach of the rights of workers as set out in the National Minimum standards (the NES) and the Fair Work Act.
“Our workers are the ones who are cleaning potentially contaminated planes to make them safe for passengers to fly on in the future. They could contract COVID-19 before being stood down, and yet Qantas is refusing to pay them their sick leave. It shows a total disregard for the wellbeing of their workers”.Daniel Walton, AWU National Secretary
The AMWU National Assistant Secretary Glenn Thompson thinks that if they accept government funding then they need to honour these agreements:
“Qantas has received hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars from the Federal Government, and now they are trying to weasel their way out of paying workers their sick leave entitlements while they’re stood down.”
The Alliance Unions intend to file an application in the Federal Court disputing the Qantas interpretation of the National Employment Standards on sick leave (also known as personal leave) while employed but stood down.
A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, so I will put away my several years of legal studies, and just say that this could wound the fairly healthy PR image that Olivia Worth and Qantas have fostered over many years.
On the face of it, workers can normally get sick leave credited if they are on other leave and get sick, so this looks like it is unjust. I’m not sure I have much sympathy for the unions trying to play the COVID-19 card as if Qantas staff were the equivalent of front line medical workers, but I appreciate their gall.
Qantas is definitely on the front foot at the moment, despite standing down 20,000 staff. However if the public thinks that the denial of sick leave is unfair, Qantas public reputation could take a dive.