March 6, 2024


The Transport Workers’ Union has welcomed the District Court of NSW’s landmark conviction of Qantas and $250,000 penalty for unlawfully standing down Theo Seremetidis, a former health and safety representative who raised concerns about worker safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The union says the unprecedented prosecution, conviction and penalty against Qantas show the need for a Safe and Secure Skies Commission to set standards in aviation and prevent further harm to airport workers.

Judge Russell SC DCJ said the reasons for his verdict included that the offences have “significant culpability”, that there was a “gross power imbalance” between Qantas and a part-time worker acting as an HSR, and that “the conduct of Qantas is shameful.”

The conviction and penalty follow an agreement reached last Wednesday for Qantas to compensate Mr Seremetidis $6,000 for economic loss such as overtime and penalty rates, and $15,000 for the hurt and humiliation he suffered.

The prosecution was brought by SafeWork NSW after the TWU called in the regulator over Qantas targeting and standing down Mr Seremetidis, who acted within his duties under the Work Health and Safety Act. Half of the penalty fine will be paid by Qantas to the prosecution, along with legal costs.

In February 2020, Qantas stood down Mr Seremetidis for a year after he directed workers to cease unsafe work, notably involving inadequate safety measures for workers cleaning planes from pandemic hotspots.

TWU NSW/QLD Secretary Richard Olsen says the conviction sends a clear message that no business is above the law when it comes to the safety and wellbeing of workers. 

“By standing up to Qantas, Theo has shown that the safety of workers must always come first. This prosecution has been a game-changer and has encouraged others to come forward with complaints of discriminatory conduct under the WHS Act. This conviction is a victory for Theo and for every worker who deserves a safe and respectful workplace.

“This section of the WHS Act is crucial in sanctioning health and safety representatives to carry out their duties without fear of retribution. The District Court of NSW has brought justice to Theo and upheld the protective nature of the WHS Act. Now the focus must be on preventing the likes of Qantas from treating workers with such disregard.”

TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine says this verdict is a historic moment for corporate accountability over workplace safety, but workers shouldn’t have to fight these cases.

“Convicting Qantas was the right decision. Qantas put workers’ lives in danger during a global pandemic, denied them the representation of their trained health and safety representative, and treated Theo Seremetidis appallingly as a warning to workers that their safety concerns were not welcome.

“Deterrents are important, but prevention is the best way to protect workers’ safety. We need to rein in Qantas and keep its operations in check through an independent Safe and Secure Skies Commission to set standards across aviation. Worker and passenger safety must always be prioritised over executive bonuses and shareholder dividends, but in privatised airlines and airports, priorities are back to front. We must reverse this excessive corporate greed to rebuild a sustainable aviation industry.”

MEDIA CONTACT: Pippa Hatton 0418 982 257


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