Qantas attacks SafeWork’s COVID stand-down lawsuits

QANTAS reported a full year after tax profit of $2.47 billion, despite its reputation problem.

QANTAS reported a full year after tax profit of $2.47 billion, despite its reputation problem. Photo: Getty

Qantas is seeking to stop two criminal cases brought against it over the alleged treatment of a worker who raised COVID-19 health concerns about cleaning aircraft arriving from China.

In the NSW District Court, Qantas Ground Services faces four separate cases brought by SafeWork NSW after it stood down employee and health and safety representative Theocharis Seremetidis in February 2020.

With prosecutors closing their case after a hearing in November last year, Qantas is now attempting to stay two of the lawsuits brought against it before putting on its own evidence when the hearing continues in August.

Between January 26 and February 2, 2020, Mr Seremetidis and other workers employed to clean and service aircraft at Sydney International Airport raised concerns about the risk of working on planes arriving from China.

Qantas is alleged to have discriminated against Mr Seremetidis by standing him down on February 2 then threatening to take disciplinary action against him, including terminating his employment, on February 5.

In two of its lawsuits, SafeWork’s primary claim is that Qantas breached the Work Health and Safety Act by discriminating against Mr Seremetidis on both days for the dominant reason that he directed other staff to cease any unsafe work.

Safework alleges in the other two lawsuits that the airline’s dominant reason was the health issues and concerns raised by Mr Seremetidis.

In the NSW District Court on Wednesday, Qantas barrister Bruce Hodgkinson SC attempted to shut down two of these lawsuits.

SafeWork had to choose only one dominant reason by law and the cases should be stayed until prosecutors elected which two they were going to proceed with, Mr Hodgkinson told Judge David Russell.

The “essential factual ingredients” of the primary and alternative charges – their time, place and manner – also arose out of the same events across the two days in February, Mr Hodgkinson said.

This meant if SafeWork failed on the main charges, there was a chance Qantas could be acquitted on the alternatives too because of the duplicity between them, in what is known as “double jeopardy,” the court heard.

SafeWork’s barrister Trish McDonald SC said Judge Russell should toss the airline’s application as he had already dismissed a similar bid in November 2022 before the hearing kicked off.

Qantas was trying to re-litigate matters it had already argued months ago and which had been rejected by the court, she said.

“In substance, they are seeking exactly the same relief,” she told the court.

If the airline was prejudiced by running all cases simultaneously, staying two was not the answer. Instead, the two alternative charges could be “severed” from the others and heard at a later date, Ms McDonald said.

The hearing continues Thursday.


Topics: Qantas
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