Qantas will face sentencing in a criminal court after a judge found the airline breached workplace health and safety law in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
SafeWork NSW brought the rare prosecution after Qantas Ground Services (QGS) stood down a trained health and safety representative hours after he gave a direction to others to cease work.
The February 2020 direction related to the cleaning and servicing of planes arriving from China and came the day after the federal government closed its borders to direct flights from that country.
Qantas later outlined several reasons in a letter as to why it suspended Theo Seremetidis from his job, but NSW District Court Judge David Russell said that was an unsuccessful attempt to find additional reasons to back up its conduct.
“I have found that the reason for QGS engaging in discriminatory conduct towards Mr Seremetidis was because he exercised a power or performed a function as a health and safety representative,” he said in his judgment on Thursday.
The court dismissed other charges alleging the letter to Seremetidis constituted a threat and that his position was illegally altered.
The Transport Workers Union said it was a major victory for the worker.
“It holds great significance for all health and safety representatives, highlighting the crucial role they play in ensuring safe workplaces,”
“The WHS Act has done its job.”it said.
Both Safework NSW and Qantas can appeal the court’s decision.
“Qantas acknowledges the findings of the NSW District Court, which upheld one of three charges brought by SafeWork NSW, and will review the judgment before commenting on it further,” the airline said in a statement.
“We recognise that the initial stages of the pandemic caused a lot of uncertainty for our people, customers and the business more broadly.
“Our medical and safety teams worked tirelessly to provide daily updates to employees and to put effective controls and procedures in place to help protect our people and customers.”