The TWU has welcomed the verdict of a first-ever criminal prosecution from the safety regulator against Qantas over the targeting and standing down of Health and Safety Representative Theo Seremetidis.
Qantas was found guilty of the primary charge, for standing down an HSR for making a direction to cease unsafe work which was unsafe. Hearings for determining sentencing and costs will be called for a later date.
Judge Russell formed a ‘favourable impression’ of Theo Seremetidis as as witness and said that he “attempted to carry out his duties as an HSR conscientiously and carefully.”
The union has called on Qantas management to prove it has changed its ways by accepting the verdict and apologising to the HSR and the workers Qantas endangered, rather than dragging the matter out through a costly appeal.
The TWU urged SafeWork NSW to prosecute Qantas with criminal charges on behalf of the union member in the first test of the WHS Act’s protections of HSRs acting within their role and responsibilities.
In February 2020, Mr Seremetidis directed colleagues to cease unsafe work when they were instructed to clean planes that had arrived from covid hotspots without proper PPE, covid-safe training, or even disinfectant. A SafeWork inspection later confirmed workers were being made to clean multiple tray tables with only water and one rag.
During witness testimony, emails revealed Qantas managers were worried that Mr Seremetidis would take action as an HSR after he asked safety questions and shared media articles about the risks of COVID-19.
TWU President and NSW/Qld Secretary Richard Olsen said:
“This is a fantastic result. Theo is a workplace hero and today he has been vindicated. When the TWU urged SafeWork NSW to prosecute this case, Theo courageously took on one of Australia’s biggest corporate bullies and won.
“Theo always acted diligently to protect his colleagues, and the evidence brought in this case proved that he thoroughly researched the risks, asked the right questions of his employer, and requested protective equipment and training for workers cleaning planes from covid hotspots. Qantas not only ignored the concerns of Theo and his colleagues, but set out to punish and silence him for acting in his role as a highly trained HSR.
“We congratulate Theo and SafeWork NSW for leading this unprecedented prosecution which has inspired others to come forward.”
TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said:
“This landmark decision will make workplaces safer. Every workplace needs a Theo Seremetidis, and this verdict will enhance the strength and the courage of HSRs to protect their colleagues.
“How Qantas responds to this verdict will be one of the first tests of the promise made by the airline that it has turned over a new leaf. Historically, Qantas has dragged out every possible legal challenge, with Goyder still refusing to accept that illegally outsourcing 1700 ground and fleet presentation workers was wrong. We need to see a different approach this time with acceptance and apology. An appeal will only send a signal to workers, customers and shareholders that the Joyce-Goyder legacy lives on.
“TWU members attacked by Qantas throughout the pandemic have triumphed over the airline in the Federal Court, the Full Court of Appeal, the High Court and now the District Court of NSW. If Qantas wants to win back support in the court of public opinion, it needs to reverse its destructive business model, bring back good, secure, safe jobs and treat its workforce with respect rather than disdain.
“We can’t just sit back and hope that Qantas will do better. The depths to which aviation has fallen shows the need to Close the Loopholes and establish a Safe and Secure Skies Commission to bring back quality aviation jobs and standards.”
Media contact: Pippa Hatton 0418 982 257