Qantas Ground Services fined $250,000 for standing HSR down

Qantas Ground Services was recently fined $250,000 for unlawfully standing down a former health and safety representative (HSR) who raised concerns about worker safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The company stood down the worker, Theo Seremetidis, after he raised concerns about the company’s practice of making workers clean planes arriving from COVID hotspots without appropriate personal protective equipment, COVID-safe training, or adequate disinfectant measures.

The $250,000 fine follows an investigation by SafeWork NSW after the Transport Workers Union raised safety issues.

In October 2021 SafeWork NSW began its case against Qantas filing charges in the District Court under section 104 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and alleging that Qantas engaged in discriminatory conduct for a prohibited reason.

Judge Russell said the conduct of Qantas was “shameful”, said the airline’s offences have “significant culpability”, and that there was a “gross power imbalance” between Qantas and Seremetidis as an HSR.

The landmark case is the first time in Australian labour history that a major airline has been criminally prosecuted for breaching workplace safety regulations.

The $250,000 fine comes on top of Qantas agreeing to pay a personal compensation order to the HSR of $21,000 ($6000 for economic loss and $15,000 for non-economic loss).

“As a first principle, no work health and safety rep should be stood down for doing their job,” said NSW Work Health and Safety Minister Sophie Cotsis.

“Let this case stand as a warning, not just to Qantas but to all employers, not to discriminate against their health and safety reps.

“Given this was a first-of-its-kind case the New South Wales Government will take time to review the outcome.”

Head of SafeWork NSW, Trent Curtin, said the ruling supports the role of the HSR as a serious and specialised role that is recognised and protected under WHS laws in NSW.

“Businesses have specific obligations in relation to health and safety representatives and are required to give them access to information regarding hazards and risks affecting the work group and talking with them about health and safety issues,” he said.