Unions take Qantas to High Court over alleged misuse of JobKeeper scheme, underpayment of staff

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Unions are taking their fight against Qantas and its use of the JobKeeper wage subsidy program to the High Court.

They say workers have been ripped off by the airline after working public holidays, weekends and overtime during the COVID-19 lockdowns.

The Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) is accusing Qantas of not paying workers their rightful wages for those shifts, saying the airline has been manipulating rosters and paying workers no more than the basic JobKeeper wage.

Other unions involved in the case include the Australian Services Union (ASU), the Flight Attendants Association of Australia (FAAA), and the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU).

The unions will today apply for special leave to appeal to the High Court, the highest court in Australia.

In September, the Federal Court agreed with unions that Qantas should pay its workers for the extra shifts they worked, but Qantas appealed the decision and in December the full Federal Court ruled in the airline’s favour, finding Qantas no longer had to backpay hundreds of workers.

The win was a relief not just for Qantas, but business lobby groups that argued the Federal Court’s initial interpretation of the law relating to the Federal Government’s JobKeeper wage subsidy could have opened the floodgates for other companies to have to backpay workers.

TWU assistant national secretary Nick McIntosh said Qantas’ refusal to pay its workers fairly amounted to wage theft.

“Qantas has been engaging in wage theft, refusing to pay workers fairly and battling them through the courts,” he said.

“Senior Qantas management are back to paying themselves millions of dollars while Qantas workers aren’t even being paid properly for the work they are doing and are being denied the sick leave they are entitled to,” he said.

“The Federal Government and the Qantas board are refusing to hold them to account over this but workers are taking a stand.

Teri O’Toole, the federal secretary of the FAAA, said Qantas employees should be paid their entitlements.

“Qantas workers are struggling on basic JobKeeper, they have spent public holidays and weekends away from their families and they should be paid fairly,” she said.

“They should not have to go to court to receive the pay that they have worked for.

“After years of loyal service and helping Qantas through tough times when it was in financial dire straits, workers feel very let down by the airline right now.”

Decision overturned in December

Last year, the TWU and ASU argued in the Federal Court that Qantas had refused to pay its workers for public holidays, weekends, overtime and allowances during the shutdown.

They said the airline “deliberately manipulated” its JobKeeper payments so it would not have to pay workers a dollar more than the JobKeeper wage subsidy.

Qantas argued that payments made in arrears to workers for doing overtime should be counted against the JobKeeper payments.

The court ultimately agreed with Qantas. It accepted the airline’s argument that it could use workers’ earnings paid in arrears to reduce the top-up amount it must make to get their pay to the minimum fortnightly JobKeeper payment.

By business reporters Rachel Pupazzoni and Gareth Hutchens (Original ABC Article)