Qantas fined $250K for standing down health and safety rep

Friday, 08 March, 2024

Qantas fined $250K for standing down health and safety rep

The District Court of NSW has imposed a $250,000 penalty on Qantas for standing down a worker who raised work health and safety concerns. SafeWork NSW brought this action after Qantas Ground Services Pty Ltd (Qantas) unlawfully stood down Health and Safety Representative Theo Seremetidis during the pandemic, when he raised concerns about workers being exposed to COVID-19. Qantas also agreed to pay a personal compensation order to Seremetidis of $21,000 ($6000 for economic loss and $15,000 for non-economic loss).

Judge Russell SC DCJ said the reasons for his verdict included that the offences have “significant culpability”, that there was a “gross power imbalance” between Qantas and the part-time worker acting as an HSR.

In February 2020, when Seremetidis was working for Qantas at Sydney Airport, he directed his colleagues to stop cleaning and servicing aircrafts arriving from pandemic hotspots. In response, Qantas illegally stood Seremetidis down.

In October 2021, SafeWork NSW began its case against Qantas and filed charges in the District Court under section 104 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (the Act), alleging that Qantas engaged in discriminatory conduct for a prohibited reason. These were reportedly the first charges ever filed by SafeWork NSW using this section of the Act.

In November 2023, Qantas was found guilty of one charge; the courts have now handed down the sentence. Qantas has 28 days to appeal the decision. The Transport Workers’ Union welcomed the conviction of Qantas, with TWU NSW/QLD Secretary Richard Olsen stating that the prosecution has encouraged others to come forward with complaints of discriminatory conduct under the WHS Act. “This conviction is a victory for Theo and for every worker who deserves a safe and respectful workplace,” Olsen said. In a statement issued after the conviction, the TWU said the unprecedented prosecution, conviction and penalty against Qantas shows the need for a Safe and Secure Skies Commission to set standards in aviation and prevent further harm to airport workers.

Work Health and Safety Minister Sophie Cotsis said no work health and safety rep should be stood down from their job, adding that she is very pleased that SafeWork took the initiative to ensure the rights of health and safety representatives were protected.

“I greatly appreciate the work that the TWU has done to support workplace health and safety. Let this case stand as a warning, not just to Qantas but to all employers, not to discriminate against their health and safety reps. Given this was a first-of-its-kind case the NSW Government will take time to review the outcome,” Cotsis said.

Trent Curtin, Head of SafeWork NSW, said the ruling supports the role of the health and safety representative as a serious and specialised role that is recognised and protected under work, health and safety laws in NSW.

“Businesses have specific obligations in relation to health and safety representatives and are required to give them access to information regarding hazards and risks affecting the work group and talking with them about health and safety issues. Ensuring effective consultation is a priority for SafeWork NSW, and I would like to thank and acknowledge the efforts of our inspectors, investigators and legal team for ensuring a precedent is set for any future businesses who may take similar actions,” Curtin said.

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