Qantas to pay $21,000 for unlawfully standing down HSR

Unions welcome decision to compensate 'workplace hero'

Qantas to pay $21,000 for unlawfully standing down HSR

Australian flag carrier Qantas has agreed to pay $21,000 to a laid off employee who stopped his colleagues from cleaning planes that arrived from COVID-19 hotspots.

The District Court of New South Wales handed the first-of-its-kind compensation order to Qantas this week, which the airline agreed to pay.

The payment covers $6,000 for the economic loss and $15,000 for the non-economic loss of Theo Seremetidis, who was a lift truck driver who got elected as health and safety representative (HSR) during the pandemic.

Seremetidis said this was "never about compensation" but about holding the airline accountable for its actions and standing up for HSRs' ability to carry out their duties.

"The smallest thing Qantas could have done was to say sorry, but they haven't even done that," he said in a statement.

"In the darkest moments of this ordeal, it was the thought of my co-workers and their families that kept me going. Their safety is non-negotiable, and I refused to let Qantas get away with its behaviour."

Unions welcome payment

The Transport Workers' Union, which backed Seremetidis on the case, welcomed the compensation order from the District Court of NSW.

"Theo is a workplace hero. He fearlessly confronted one of Australia's major corporate adversaries and came out on top. This case has set a precedent for holding corporations to account but also sent a powerful message about the paramount importance of HSRs to ensure the safety and wellbeing of workers across Australia," said NSW/QLD State Secretary Richard Olsen in a statement.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) also said the payment is a "win for workers' rights and safety advocacy."

"When corporations like Qantas ignore the safety concerns of workers and their representatives, people get hurt and their wellbeing suffers. HSRs are some of the unsung heroes of our workplaces," said ACTU assistant secretary Liam O'Brien in a statement.

Penalties underway for Qantas

The District Court of NSW is still hearing submissions on the penalties that Qantas should pay for standing down Seremetidis in February 2021.

He was among the employees that was made redundant as Qantas moved to unlawfully outsource ground staff during the pandemic.

The airline was found guilty in November of illegally standing down Seremetidis after he instructed his colleagues to halt work when they were ordered to clean planes that had arrived from COVID-19 hotspots without personal protective equipment, adequate training, or even disinfectants.

The District Court of NSW found that the Qantas Ground Services (QGS) engaged in "discriminatory conduct" towards Seremetidis after he exercised his power as an HSR.

"I find that QGS saw the giving of the directions by Mr. Seremetidis to cease work as a threat to the conduct of business, and in particular, a threat to the ability of QGS to clean and service aircraft and get them back in the air," Judge David Russell previously ruled.

TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said a shift needs to happen in Qantas after a string of cases made against the airline.

"We need to see a complete cultural shift at Qantas and a Safe and Secure Skies Commission to restore balance, fairness and stability to our aviation industry," Kaine said.

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