In the first ever prosecution of its kind, Qantas has been hit with criminal charges for targeting and standing down TWU Trained HSR Theo Seremetidis at the start of the pandemic. Through ten days of hearings in November, Theo has shown exceptional fortitude and bravery in continuing to stand up for workers against Australia’s worst corporate bully. The case will now resume in 2023.
Qantas displayed gross indifference to the jobs, wellbeing, health and safety and employment conditions of workers during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
At the beginning of the Covid Pandemic, on a Sunday morning, Qantas stood down Theo, an HSR who used his legal rights to direct workers to cease unsafe work until they received safety information about cleaning planes from China. Management and supervisors were entering planes in full HAZMAT suits while workers were told they could wear masks and gloves if they wanted to. Workers were cleaning planes with no disinfectant and were instructed to clean planes with hot water and old rags.
Qantas failed to conduct any risk assessments on cleaning the planes in consultation with workers, and provided no information or training to workers in dealing with Covid. They were relying on the media and external sources to provide workers with information regarding the Pandemic. Workers were fearful and were threatened with being sacked if they refused to engage in the unsafe work.
Theo was exercising his powers and functions in his HSR role, ensuring the right conversations were happening in the workplace, to keep himself and his colleagues safe.
In standing down Theo, weekend managers at Qantas suggested that he was causing anxiety to workers and stood him down for exercising his power to give a direction to workers to cease unsafe work. At the time, Qantas described the risk of Covid as “negligible.”
A few weeks after the stand down, Qantas failings led to an outbreak of Covid in yards, which forced hundreds of workers to self-isolate.
Theo stood up for his workmates during Covid. The TWU stands with Theo.
This court case is incredibly significant to workers not only in NSW not only in transport, but in the whole country. If HSRs cannot stand up for workers in Aviation, then no worker is safe. It’s vital that workplace health and safety representatives have the full backing of the law and the regulator to ensure workers get the protections they need. The TWU will always back their HSRs and hold employers to account.
– RICHARD OLSEN,
TWU STATE SECRETARY
A WORD FROM MARIJA MARSIC, TWU ASSISTANT STATE SECRETARY AND DIRECTOR OF WHS & EDUCATION
The successful prosecution of Qantas will be a huge win for workplace safety everywhere. This case sets a significant precedent giving union trained HSRs the incentive to be active, and take a stand for their workplaces.
The Union pushed hard, working collaboratively with the Regulator, SafeWork NSW, to make sure Qantas was held accountable for their outrageous behaviour towards a trained health and safety rep.
It was critical that the safety watchdog did go through with the prosecution of Qantas after so much work from the TWU and SafeWork NSW inspectors.
This case against Qantas lets HSRs know that if they do put their hand up, they will be protected, they will be backed by the TWU, they will be backed by the safety regulator and employers will be held accountable.
We have already won, the fact that the case has gone this far, sets a precedent for employers to think twice before they target a union HSR. It stops other PCBUs behaving like they are above the law.
The TWU made a promise to Theo; we would be there with him every step of the way and would not leave him to hang out to dry. The TWU is committed to safety and our HSRs. This is our message: being a TWU member and being a TWU trained HSR means you will not be left to deal with this on your own. You will have the advice, guidance and support when you leave training. We are a fighting union; the TWU will always have the backs of our HSRs.
That is why it is so important for your workmates to join the TWU.
THE IMPORTANCE OF HEALTH AND SAFETY REPS
A health and safety representative (HSR) is elected by fellow workers to represent members of a work group in health and safety matters, and have powers under WHS legislation.
HSRs exercising their powers and functions are a crucial part of maintaining a safe workplace.
Trained HSRs have the right to:
- Inspect their workplace
- Meet with and talk with workers about safety issues
- Issue provisional improvement notices
- Request the assistance of another person e.g. union representative such as a delegate, another HSR or a Union Official or an inspector from the regulating body
- Protect workers by directing them to cease unsafe work
The WHS Act protects HSRs because of the important role they play in keeping workers safe.
No employer has the right to discriminate against an HSR or discipline them for exercising their functions under the Act.
By standing down Theo, Qantas has again shown its utter disregard for workers’ safety and their legal rights.