The TWU will take Qantas to the Fair Work Commission on behalf of an cabin cleaner who was stood down by the company after raising concerns about workers without adequate PPE being exposed to coronavirus.
The case is linked to a Safe Work NSW investigation into Qantas’s cleaning standards last year, which found an “inadequate system of work used to clean planes “.
The worker, a trained health and safety representative, advised colleagues not to clean planes arriving from China in early 2020 due to the risk of COVID-19 exposure. At the time, Qantas was not providing cabin cleaners with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) while at work.
Qantas insisted the risk associated with COVID-19 was “negligible”, threatened other workers with sacking and stood down the worker pending an internal investigation. Qantas stalled its own investigation throughout 2020, and abandoned it altogether earlier this year following the airline’s decision to outsource 2,000 ground crew staff, including the affected worker.
The TWU will argue that Qantas’ treatment of the employee was unlawful and constituted an adverse action under the Fair Work Act.
TWU NSW State Secretary Richard Olsen said Qantas’ must be held to account for violating the rights and duties of the health and safety representative.
“Here we have a health and safety representative doing their job, looking out for the safety of their colleagues at work, and Qantas responds by standing them down” Mr Olsen said.
“If health and safety reps at Qantas can’t stand up to unsafe work practices without being stood down, then no worker is safe.”
“We are taking Qantas to the Fair Work Commission because we believe it is vital that workplace health and safety representatives have the full backing of the law.”
“Qantas told this employee that the risk associated with COVID-19 was ‘negligible’ – are they seriously going to go into the Fair Work Commission and stand by that position?”
“We believe there is more than enough evidence that Qantas’ decision to stand down the employee was a breach of the Fair Work Act and of the employee’s industrial rights.”
Under section 340 of the Fair Work Act, employers are prohibited from taking adverse action against an employee in response to the employee exercising a workplace right. Adverse action includes anything which ‘injures the employee in his or her employment’. As a workplace health and safety representative, the employee had the right to direct their colleagues to cease work if there was a serious risk to health and/or safety.
Mr Olsen singled out Qantas CEO Alan Joyce as needing to take responsibility for the treatment of the employee.
“You can bet your last dollar that Alan Joyce would have refused to board planes coming from China in February 2020 without proper PPE – but that’s exactly what they stood this employee down for doing.”
“Alan Joyce and Qantas have a decision to make – will they dig in their heels and keep saying that working on planes coming from the epicentre of the COVID pandemic without proper PPE didn’t pose a health risk, or will they finally admit they got it wrong?”
Qantas are already facing a separate investigation and potential prosecution by SafeWork NSW for multiple breaches of the Work Health and Safety Act over the decision to stand the employee down – with each breach carrying a fine of up to $500,000.
The move also comes after the Federal Court last month ruled that Qantas’ decision to outsource 2,000 ground crew jobs was unlawful and motivated by Qantas’ desire to prevent the workers exercising their industrial rights in an upcoming bargaining period.
Media Contact: Mitch Wright – 0430 186 590