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Qantas, TWU enter mediation to decide compensation

Qantas and the Transport Workers Union will begin mediation with the aim of reaching a compensation agreement for the 1,700 employees who were illegally terminated during the pandemic.

user iconNaomi Neilson 20 September 2023 Big Law
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Former Federal Court chief justice James Allsop will oversee the mediation between executives of the major airline and the Transport Workers Union (TWU) from early next week. The mediation is not likely to include a discussion on penalties for Qantas.

Justice Michael Lee of the Federal Court set down a case management hearing for late October to hear the results of the mediation and flagged he would also “rejig” next year’s busy court calendar to secure an early penalty hearing.

“I delivered a series of judgments very quickly … and it has been delayed considerably by reason of appeals,” Justice Lee said.

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“There are 1,700 people whose lives have been affected, together with their families, and I wish to see the matter resolved.”

Late last week, the full court of the High Court of Australia unanimously dismissed Qantas’ appeal, upholding a Federal Court finding that the airline had breached the Fair Work Act 2009 by illegally firing 1,700 ground staff at the end of 2020.

In a letter to the Federal Court, counsel for Qantas requested the mediation take place within 14 days of Justice Lee’s order.

Mark Gibian, solicitor for TWU, objected to mediation, insisting that it should instead be heard “in open court”.

“It is obvious to everyone that this case involves the union, but it also affects the 1,700 or so former employees … who were affected by Qantas’ conduct,” Mr Gibian said.

“[The TWU is] concerned about the process to resolve compensatory claims, which may not be transparent to those employees, so they are in a position to know what has occurred.

“It is a serious concern the union has.”

However, Mr Gibian said the union would be satisfied with the mediation if it was directed at compensation only and not penalties.

There was also a discussion from Qantas about swapping the attendance of an executive with an in-house lawyer “with authority to settle”, but this was rejected by Justice Lee.

“I don’t want it attended to by a lawyer.

“[Including executives], in my view, like in many mediations over many, many years, is appropriate in escalating it … to maximise the prospects of settlement,” Justice Lee said.

Justice Lee requested the parties have a “parallel conversation” to discuss what should occur if they are unable to reach an agreement.

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