An Australian federal court has ruled that Qantas has the legal right not to pay sick leave to employees who were stood down from work in response to the novel Coronavirus pandemic. The Australian flag-carrier stood down 30,000 employees in mid-March because there was no work for them to do when Qantas slashed its route network and schedules.
The court agreed with the argument put forward by Qantas that it should not have to pay sick leave or compassionate, personal and carer’s leave because there was no work for the affected employees to be absent from.
Employees hit by the decision include a cancer sufferer and a worker awaiting a triple heart bypass. Both of the employees have worked for Qantas for over 30 years.
“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,” commented Transport Workers Union (TWU) national secretary Michael Kaine.
Kaine accused Qantas of “making harsh management decisions that are heaping concerns on already anxious ill workers,” and said the union was looking to appeal the decision. “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.”
The decision will also affect Qantas workers who contracted the Coronavirus on repatriation flights before being stood down. One of the airline’s cabin crew members said they were paid just four days sick leave after being diagnosed with COVID-19 before being stood down.
The airline said all of its employees were still able to access other programmes including annual leave, as well as the government’s Jobkeeper programme.
“If there is no work available to be performed by the employee, there is no income and no protection against that which has not been lost,” Justice Geoffrey Flick wrote in support of Qantas’ policy.
“The effect on the economy and business has been unparalleled. International travel has all but ceased,” Justice Flick continued.
He concluded that the very point of standing down workers was to protect the airline from claims including paying sick leave.
The TWU has been highly critical of Qantas’ response to the threat posed by COVID-19. The union has previously accused Qantas of refusing to introduce proper safeguards for frontline employees including cleaners and cabin crew. At least 60 Qantas employees have been diagnosed with the virus.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.