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Tag Archives: TWU

Qantas workers cannot be denied sick leave, says ACTU

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), in keeping with their reputation to doing anything to ensure that the nation’s workers receive their proper contractual award obligations, is going to the High Court to win sick leave entitlements for the workers of Qantas.

According to Scott Connolly, the ACTU’s assistant national secretary, the airline giant colloquially known as an Australian icon, and the giant red kangaroo logo usually being the first thing tourists entering Australia see when they go through the nation’s airports, has not been extending the sick leave entitlement to its employees for a number of years.

In some cases, it has been decades of Qantas workers allowing their sick leave entitlements to accrue, mainly due to the failure of Qantas’s front offices and human resources divisions to invoke its duty of care to extend those entitlements to employees who need it most.

One such hard-hit case is that of Peter Seymour, a 31-year Qantas veteran push-back/aircraft driver based at Sydney Airport who has been battling cancer since receiving his diagnosis a year ago, saying that the company has failed to pay out a single cent of his sick leave entitlement.

“I love my job but that was a huge smack in the face,” Seymour said on Wednesday, as the ACTU was announcing its High Court action with multi-union backing on behalf of the workers of Qantas.

“I was treated just like a number [by the company].

“I could not stay on JobKeeper because I’ve got bills to pay, so I was forced to take redundancy from the company. I’ve just turned 64 and I still have to work, I now have to find a job” despite his cancer diagnosis, Seymour added.

Instead, Seymour had to suffer the further indignity of being contacted by the company via an e-mail that he was being made redundant and forced onto the JobKeeper stimulus – which possesses a much lower rate to award to him than a payout from Qantas – in place of any accrued sick leave entitlement.

“Qantas’ behaviour toward the most unwell people in its workforce has been callous and illegal,” said Connolly, who also cited the case of one other unnamed Qantas employee who after receiving a diagnosis of heart disease, was also given the same fate by the airline company.

“That’s why we fully support this bid to have this matter heard in the High Court,” added Connolly.

The case – being brought under the auspices of the law firm of Maurice Blackburn on behalf of the Transport Workers Union (TWU), the Electrical Trades Union (ETU), the Australian Workers Union (AWU) and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU), all unions with vested interests among Qantas’s workforce – has found its way to the High Court after being rejected in the Federal Court last month.

Maurice Blackburn employment law principal Giri Sivaraman and the ACTU were united in agreement that this case being presided over by the High Court is bound to leave a precedent on workers’ rights cases over any sort of leave entitlements for years to come.

“We say that you can’t stand someone down who is on sick leave, and if you can’t stand them down then you can’t withhold sick leave payments from them,” Sivaraman said outside the High Court in Canberra.

“This appeal is not just important for Qantas employees who’ve been unfairly denied access to their own sick, compassionate, personal or carer’s leave, it’s critical to all workers in Australia who may be stood down in the future,” added Connolly.

As expected, Seymour’s union, the TWU, is not only backing him but potentially countless others whose entitlements may become denied to them by any employer, and not one with the wealth of Qantas.

“Qantas has received over $800 million in [JobKeeper] taxpayers’ support to help it during the pandemic but instead of acting like a responsible employer in return it is trashing lives and trashing jobs,” said TWU national secretary Michael Kaine.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, whose company has received $800 million in government funding, JobKeeper and otherwise, during the pandemic. (Photo from abc.net.au)

And Kaine believes that any sort of government stipends, stimulus endeavours or other fundings should come with a strict set of terms and conditions, especially when workers’ lives and well-being remains at stake.

“Denying sick workers the leave they have built up and pushing them in some case out of their jobs in order to access redundancy payments to pay bills is utterly despicable.

“The Federal Government could tie conditions to the public money it is pumping into Qantas to force it to act responsibly but it is choosing not to,” added Kaine.

The other unions involved in the ACTU’s case remain resolute and defiant in fighting the case on behalf of all of its workers past, present and future.

“We make no apology for continuing our pursuit to right these wrongs. This is another very important step in the fight to ensure every worker in this country can access their sick leave when they need it most,” said Allen Hicks, the national secretary of the ETU.

“It adds insult to injury for sick Qantas workers who now have to defend their right to sick leave entitlements in the High Court,” said Steve Murphy, the national secretary of the AMWU, who added that the fight in the High Court amid Qantas’s decision could not come at a worse time in 2020.

“Essential workers stepped up during the year from hell, now Qantas is out-of-control, leaving it’s sick workers behind during their time of need – at Christmas,” said Murphy.

 

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Insecure work inquiry forthcoming: Tony Burke

With ever-growing concerns among those in Australia’s union movement over rising levels of casual work and under-employment, a Senate inquiry on insecure work will take place in 2021, shadow industrial relations minister Tony Burke announced on Friday.

This inquiry has been announced days after industrial relations reforms measures in the way of proposed legislation announced by the Morrison government and Attorney-General Christian Porter, Burke’s counterpart in industrial reforms matters, was seen by Labor to offer precious little if anything in the way of easing the levels of insecure work.

And as the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has come out to assail the proposed “WorkChoices 2.0” legislation as resulting the cutting of workers’ pay and conditions in addition to avoiding scrutiny of insecure work issues, Burke says that Labor shares the ACTU’s concerns about putting more people into more permanent working positions.

“Some Australians like the flexibility of casual or gig work. But Labor wants to see more people in secure work, with good reliable pay and the highest of safety standards,” he said in announcing the inquiry.

“Insecure work is the pandemic that will stay with us – long after the COVID-19 threat has passed,” added Tony Sheldon, the Senator from New South Wales and former national secretary of the Transport Workers Union who will be chairing the inquiry.

Sheldon hinted that those working in the gig economy – from food delivery drivers and riders, and those operating ride-share services, to any form of temporary contract workers, freelancers, consultants and independent contractors and professionals – would be examined towards reaching more permanent employment solutions for their sectors as well as that of the entire workforce.

The recent deaths of five food delivery riders in Sydney’s CBD since the end of September has also hastened the need to bring the issues of gig economy jobs within the spheres of insecure work as a whole into focus alongside the need to regulate the nature of that type of work, said Sheldon.

“It is not acceptable that an underclass of work has been spawned where workers are denied the basic rights and minimum protections all Australians deserve,” said Sheldon.

In October, in Victoria, the Victorian Council on Social Services (VCOSS) drew links – centred around the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic – between those whose employment was defined as being of an insecure nature and workers’ declining states of health and well-being.

“… our industrial relations framework has not kept pace with changes to the labour market, and neither has government policy,” the report stated at its outset.

Specific to those in the gig economy, the VCOSS report stated: “A safe workforce is a healthy workforce. COVID-19 has highlighted the heightened financial vulnerability of workers in the care sector, a lack of coordination and consistency in training, entitlements and protections, and the fragility of support systems in maintaining consistent, quality care

“Workers engaged in the gig economy, who work across multiple platforms or a mixture of platform and more traditional employment types, have no access, or limited access to sick leave and other entitlements. Wages vary across platforms, and time and travel costs between shifts are not compensated. Health, safety and workers compensation arrangements depend on a worker’s employment status.”

Shadow industrial relations minister Tony Burke, who announced the inquiry (Photo from abc.net.au)

Burke said the inquiry is set to commence under Sheldon’s chairmanship when Parliament returns from its summer break in February, and its investigations stemming from it could take up a majority of the year ahead of a final reporting date of November 2021.

Those investigations may include personal security areas such as in income and housing, as well as dignity in retirement, affecting roughly four million Australians lacking the benefits and entitlements tied to permanent employment.

“If the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us anything it’s that insecure work is not just a threat to the wellbeing of individuals – it’s a threat to the wellbeing of our society,” said Burke.

Meanwhile, Wes Lambert, the chief executive officer of the Restaurant and Catering Association (R&CA), said in October that the lack of legislative definitions over what constitutes a gig economy worker was an area which required addressing.

Lambert, stating the R&CA’s position on the heels of a deadline for submissions into a State of Victoria’s own inquiry on the status of the gig economy and insecure work, said that his organisation seeks to operate within the rules and standards to suit gig economy workers – as long as all parties knew what was expected of them.

“[The] R&CA expressly does not condone sham contracting arrangements, or any other such arrangement deliberately intended to undermine employees,” said Lambert.

“However, [the] R&CA submits that the current laws and workplace protections are not fit for the purpose in the 21st century, particularly as the world of work continues to change in the current and post-pandemic climate.

Lambert added that without any clear definitions in any current amendments of the Fair Work Act (2009), members of his industry sectors could run wild and rampant with interpretations as to what makes up gig economy participants.

“Such an arrangement, in the R&CA’s view, would create opportunities for unintentional mis-classifications resulting in disparate inconsistencies.

“More interestingly, if an employer can prove that they were not aware that the employee was not a contractor, and they were not reckless, they would not be in breach of the Act, nor be subject to any civil penalties,” he said.

So while an industry organisation such as the B&CA views and supports investigations around what next year’s Senate inquiry is trying to achieve, Sheldon says that the practice of insecure work is far from restricted to industries such as hospitality and tourism alone.

“Insecure work is not just found in food delivery and ride-sharing – it is expanding across the economy including the mining, retail, hospitality, health and aged care, university and information technology sectors,” Sheldon said.

“This inquiry comes at a critical time for our economy and for the future of work,” he added.

 

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