Qantas fined $250,000 and convicted for standing down worker citing COVID concerns during pandemic

REMY VARGA
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Qantas has been fined $250,000 for standing down a worker citing COVID concerns for staff during the pandemic.
Qantas has been fined $250,000 for standing down a worker citing COVID concerns for staff during the pandemic. Credit: Geoffrey Thomas/The West Australian

Qantas has been fined a quarter of a million dollars after the airline engaged in “shameful” and discriminatory conduct by illegally standing down an employee who raised concerns about Covid risks for staff cleaning Chinese aircraft during the pandemic.

The NSW District Court Judge David Russell on Wednesday ordered the airline to pay Theo Seremetidis, a former employee of subsidiary Qantas Ground Services, $250,000, half of which will go to the prosecutor.

Judge Russell said Qantas’ conduct towards Mr Seremetidis, then an elected health and safety representative, had been deliberate and designed to advance the commercial interests of QGS at the expense of Mr Seremetidis and other workers.

Sign up to The Nightly's newsletters.

Get the first look at the digital newspaper, curated daily stories and breaking headlines delivered to your inbox.

Email Us
By continuing you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy.

“The effect of the conduct of QGS upon Mr Seremetidis personally was traumatic and long-lasting, as detailed in his affidavit,” he said.

“The conduct of QGS towards Mr Seremetidis was quite shameful. Even when he was stood down and was under investigation, QGS attempted to manufacture additional reasons for its actions. “

Judge Russell last year found Qantas had acted illegally and unfairly when the the airline sidelined Mr Seremetidis after he expressed concerns for staff cleaning aircraft from COVID hotspots in China at Sydney International Airport in early 2020, cutting him off from workers who sought the health and safety representative’s advice.

He said QGS had “deliberately” ignored the provisions of the Work Health and Safety Act in its treatment of Mr Seremetidis on his concerns and said there had been a “gross power imbalance” between the employer and parttime employee.

On Wednesday The Transport Workers’ Union said the order by the NSW District Court was an “unprecedented prosecution, conviction and penalty”.

TWU NSW and Queensland secretary Richard Olsen said the conviction sent a message that no business was above the law and that workers’ safety must always come first.

“This prosecution has been a game-changer and has encouraged others to come forward with complaints of discriminatory conduct under the WHS Act,” he said.

“This conviction is a victory for Theo and for every worker who deserves a safe and respectful workplace.”

The prosecution was brought by WorkSafe NSW after the TWU alerted the regulator to the standing down of Mr Seremetidis.

NSW Work Health and Safety Minister Sophie Cotsis said she hoped the case would serve as a warning to all employers not to discriminate against health and safety represenatives.

“Given this was a first-of-its-kind case the NSW government will take time to review the outcome,” she said.

A Qantas spokesperson said the airline accepted the penalty and said safety remained the number one priority for the national carrier.

“We acknowledged in court the impact that this incident had on Mr Seremetidis and apologised to him.,” he said.

“Safety has always been our number one priority and we continue to encourage our employees to report all safety related matters.”

Qantas last week agreed to pay $21,000 to Mr Seremetidis for economic and non-economic loss.

Latest Edition

The front page of The Nightly for 18-04-2024

Latest Edition

Edition Edition 18 April 202418 April 2024

Tears as Bondi Junction Westfield reopens for people to grieve and reflect.