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Qantas hit with $250k penalty for firing safety rep

The NSW District Court handed Qantas a $250,000 penalty for the “shameful” decision to stand down a health and safety representative during the COVID-19 pandemic.

user iconNaomi Neilson 07 March 2024 Big Law
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Judge David Russell criticised Qantas for unlawfully standing down Theo Seremetidis for directing cleaning staff to steer clear of planes that had recently returned from COVID-19 hotspots.

The judge added the conduct was a “deliberate” move of the major airline to “advance its own commercial interests” at the expense of both Seremetidis and the cleaning staff he had directed.

As it is the first discrimination case heard under the Work Health and Safety Act across Australia, Judge Russell said it is important to “send a message” to major companies that they “cannot engage in discriminatory conduct” and breach the purposes of the act.

 
 

“The penalty must reflect the need for specific deterrence.

“Qantas is still conducting a business. Its operations involve cleaning and maintenance of aircraft flown for commercial purposes, and the continuing engagement of many workers,” Judge Russell said.

The $250,000 penalty followed an agreement reached last week to compensate Seremetidis $6,000 for economic loss and $15,000 for the hurt and humiliation he suffered as a result.

The District Court heard the effect of Qantas’ conduct on Seremetidis was “traumatic and long-lasting”.

Judge Russell said that even after Seremetidis was stood down and under investigation, “Qantas attempted to manufacture additional reasons for its actions”.

Transport Workers’ Union (TWU), which assisted Seremetidis through the SafeWork conviction, said the verdict was a “historic moment” for corporate accountability over workplace safety.

“Convicting Qantas was the right decision,” TWU national secretary Michael Kaine told media.

“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.”