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Tony Burke’s Comments on the Qantas High Court Case Decision

Updated: Oct 26, 2023

On the 13th of September 2023, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Tony Burke, responded to a question posed during question time from fellow Labor MP, Maria Vamvakinou.

Ms. Vamvakinou’s question was in relation to Qantas having lost their High Court appeal that same day. The appeal was in regards to an earlier Federal Court decision regarding Qantas’ dismissal of 1700 workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ms. Vamvakinou asked:

“What is the outcome of the High Court case in relation to Qantas and its workers? What was the government's role, and how is this different from the previous government's approach?

Mr. Burke responded:

“I thank the member for Calwell for her question, as she is someone who represents many aviation workers in her area. The government welcomes the decision of the High Court today. We congratulate the workers, and we congratulate the Transport Workers Union, which took this case forward. Some of those 1,700 illegally sacked workers are here today in the public gallery right now. I met with three of them just before question time, Damien Pollard, Gavin Burns and Craig Fielding. Some of you may have seen Damien Pollard in the media conference outside the High Court. He referred to a sense of justification and redemption. I say to the workers who were illegally sacked: you did nothing wrong. Qantas broke the law, and the government of the time left you stranded. The difference in the approach between that government and this government now could not be more stark. Let's not forget what happened. They claimed JobKeeper, saying that that was for people to keep jobs.”

At this point, according to the Parliament Hansard opposition members interjected Mr. Burke’s answer. Mr. Burke eventually continued:

“JobKeeper was paid to Qantas, the aviation sector support was provided and then Qantas said the workers, even though they were being paid JobKeeper, would run down their leave, and, once their leave had been run down and they came to be brought back on shift, they were told after being stood down for six months that they were fired. That's what happened. While their leave was being run down, the industrial relations minister of the day said it was 'a good model'. The transport minister of the day said, 'I know the decisions are in the best interest of their company going forward,' and Senator Cash said at the time, 'This is a commercial decisions for Qantas, and Qantas are entitled to make those decisions.' Well, you are not entitled to illegally sack people. “

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