A consortium of unions have lost an appeal in the Federal Court to have Qantas pay sick leave to the 25,000 workers who were temporarily stood down due to COVID-19.
The workers were stood down in March and have been unable to access sick, carers and compassionate leave.
In May, the Federal Court agreed Qantas staff could not access paid compassionate, personal or carer’s leave because there was no work for them to be absent from.
The court ruled if Qantas were required to pay leave entitlements after lawfully standing down its workers, that would defeat the purpose of having the staff furloughed in the first place.
The appeal case was backed by several unions, including the Transport Workers’ Union and the Communications, Electrical, Electronic, Energy, Information, Postal, Plumbing and Allied Services Union of Australia.
On Friday, two of three Federal Court justices dismissed the appeal.
In their joint decision, Justice Steven Rares and Justice Craig Colvin said under the terms of the enterprise agreement, being stood down means an employee is not required to present for work, and therefore cannot take leave “because … there is no obligation to present for work from which leave may be taken”.
The justices agreed that allowing workers to be paid for taking time off work during a period where there was no work “would be somewhat paradoxical”.
At the centre of the union’s appeal was the case of two workers who had been with Qantas for 30 years; one is battling cancer and another has heart disease.
The unions tried to argue Qantas should have paid the workers sick leave during the stand-down period.
TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said Qantas had let its workers down at their most vulnerable time.
“The ruling will devastate these workers, many of whom are battling serious illness and are struggling to pay bills and support their families,” Mr Kaine said.
“For a company which last year announced its CEO earned $24 million, this is a slap in the face.”
Qantas staff can still access annual leave, long service leave and JobKeeper payments.
Qantas has been approached for comment.