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High Court rules against Qantas

In a unanimous verdict, the High Court has delivered a significant blow to Qantas (ASX:QAN) and its attempts to justify the sacking of more than 1,680 employees at the height of the pandemic. The High Court’s decision also questions the tactics of former CEO Alan Joyce and the Qantas board in using the pandemic as a means to cut costs by terminating ground staff, just a month before a new industrial award was set to commence.

Following the sackings, Qantas turned to third-party outsourcers, including Dnata, Menzies, and Swissport, which are also utilized by other global airlines such as Air NZ, Emirates, and Etihad.

The High Court’s ruling favored the Transport Workers Union, upholding a previous Federal Court decision that deemed Qantas’s outsourcing of baggage handlers, cleaners, and other “under the wing” services illegal.

Qantas pursued a last-ditch appeal after a 2021 Federal Court decision found that the airline had violated the Fair Work Act when it stood down employees at 11 airports during the pandemic in November 2020. The full bench of the Federal Court upheld this decision in 2022, though it did not mandate the reinstatement of the affected employees.

The Federal Court was not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Qantas had acted solely for commercial reasons, leaving open the possibility that the carrier group may have been attempting to avoid future industrial action.

Despite Qantas claiming that the sackings were solely motivated by financial struggles, it failed to acknowledge the billions of dollars in jobKeeper payments received from the federal government and the hundreds of millions of dollars in other payments to support its air cargo operations.

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