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‘Shameful’ Qantas fined $250k for standing down worker

Qantas fined over sacked worker

Source: AAP

A former Qantas health and safety representative says he has finally been vindicated after the airline was hit with a $250,000 fine for standing him down for raising COVID-19 concerns.

The airline was found guilty of breaching workplace health and safety laws and agreed in late February to pay $21,000 to Theo Seremetidis, who directed others not to clean planes arriving from China early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Seremetidis was stood down by Qantas subsidiary Qantas Ground Services (QGS) in February 2020, hours after he told others to cease cleaning and servicing planes over concerns staff could be at risk of contracting the virus.

Speaking outside the NSW District Court on Wednesday, the former Qantas employee said he was happy with the conviction but the fine was “insignificant” for the airline.

“I’m glad that justice was served to Qantas today,” he said.

“Qantas made a $3.8 billion profit in the last 18 months, so what’s a quarter of a million? That’s a drop in the ocean.”

Judge David Russell handed down the $250,000 penalty to Qantas, which he said had engaged in “quite shameful” conduct against Seremetidis.

“Even when he was stood down and under investigation, QGS attempted to manufacture additional reasons for its actions,” he said.

Russell said Qantas acted to advance its own commercial interest in taking the action.

“There was a gross power imbalance between senior managers at QGS and Seremetidis, a part-time employee on a modest wage,” he said.

The airline faced a maximum penalty of $500,000.

It is the first instance of a major airline facing criminal prosecution for violations of workplace safety regulations.

Mr Seremetidis directed workers not to clean the planes under Section 85 of the Work Health and Safety Act, which sets out the right of workers to cease unsafe work.

The court was previously told the decision to stand down the health and safety representative went to the “upper echelons” of the primary defendant and its parent company.

Prosecution barrister Matthew Moir said Qantas gave priority to its commercial and operational interests over the health and safety of its workers.

But Qantas lawyer Bruce Hodgkinson argued the airline had been attempting to deal in an educated and informed way with the fast-unfolding pandemic.

NSW Work Health and Safety Minister Sophie Cotsis said no safety representative should be stood down for doing their job.

“Today, Theo has been vindicated,” she 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.”

Labor senator Tony Sheldon, a former Transport Workers’ Union national secretary, said the case highlighted a lack of corporate responsibility for safety.

He called for the resignation of Qantas general counsel Andrew Finch and chairman Richard Boyd.

“This decision today means the company is a criminal outfit and heads have to roll,” Sheldon said.

Qantas said it accepted the penalty and offered an apology to Seremetidis in court.

“Safety has always been our number-one priority and we continue to encourage our employees to report all safety-related matters,” the airline said in a statement.

– AAP

Topics: Qantas
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