Qantas fined $250K for firing worker who raised COVID-19 safety concerns

Qantas has been fined A$250,000 for illegally sacking one of its employees who raised health and safety concerns about workers being exposed to COVID-19 during the pandemic.

The landmark conviction was handed down by the New South Wales District Court on 6 March after Qantas Ground Services Pty Ltd (Qantas) was found guilty of unlawfully standing down health and safety representative Theo Seremetidis in February 2020.

The court heard Mr Seremetidis was working for Qantas at Sydney Airport when he directed his colleagues to stop cleaning and servicing aircrafts arriving from China. In response, the airline illegally stood Mr Seremetidis down.

SafeWork NSW launched a case against Qantas in October 2021, filing charges in the District Court under section 104 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (the Act) and alleging that Qantas engaged in discriminatory conduct for a prohibited reason.

These were the first charges ever filed by SafeWork NSW using this section of the Act.

Qantas was found guilty of one charge in November last year and ordered to pay $250,000 when the court handed down the sentence in March.

This was in addition to an earlier personal compensation order to pay the employee $21,000.

The New South Wales Minister for Work Health and Safety Sophie Cotsis welcomed the landmark sentence and fine of Qantas – one of the nation’s largest companies. 

“As a first principle, no work health and safety rep should be stood down for doing their job,” Ms Cotsis said.

“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.”

Head of SafeWork NSW Trent Curtin said a precedent had been set for any future businesses who may take similar actions in the future. 

“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,” Mr Curtin said.

Qantas has 28 days to appeal the decision.

Photo by Josh Withers on Unsplash.

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