Senate debates

Wednesday, 10 May 2023

Statements by Senators

Workplace Relations: Qantas

12:57 pm

Photo of Tony SheldonTony Sheldon (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

As I speak in this chamber today, just five minutes down the road in the High Court 1,700 illegally sacked Qantas workers, their families and the Transport Workers Union are fighting. They're not just fighting for their jobs; they're fighting for their rights at work. They're fighting for the rights of every working Australian. This case has massive ramifications for every Australian workplace, and, at its very core, this case is about whether a boss—in this case, Alan Joyce, who's presently swinging his arms around this parliament today—has a right to sack workers before they can exercise a workplace right.

In 2022 Qantas illegally sacked 1,700 workers in what they refer to as 'a vanishing window of opportunity' to sack 1,700 hardworking Australians before they could begin bargaining for a new wage arrangement. Qantas is arguing in the High Court that, because they could not begin bargaining for another few months, their sacking was not illegal. Let's be clear about what the argument means. It means that it is okay if a female employee tells her employer that they're trying to have a child and their boss turns around and sacks them before they can go on parental leave. That is Qantas's argument.

Take another example: if someone tells their employer they intend to take leave to volunteer with the SES or the Rural Fire Service and their employer sacks them in response, again, that would be okay. That is the precedent that Qantas and Alan Joyce are trying to establish—that, if you sack a worker for exercising a workplace right before they are able to take it, it is legal. If the Alan Joyce and Qantas board precedent is approved by the High Court, it would impact every single working family and every single workplace in this country. That is really what is at stake.

The Albanese government have intervened against Qantas in this case because we know what's at stake here. You can contrast that with the approach of the former government. You contrast that with former Assistant Minister for Industrial Relations Amanda Stoker, who was rumoured to be parachuted into the seat of Fadden. When Qantas illegally sacked those 1,700 people, she came into this place and said it was their own fault. That's the difference between us and them. We stand for working people; they stand for Alan Joyce and the reckless Qantas board.

Unfortunately, others employers have taken the example set by Alan Joyce and the Qantas board. Let's have a look at what has been happening at McDonald's, who couldn't stop stealing $250 million in wages theft from their workers, so some McDonald's stores have gone even further. Some stores settled with the Union for Retail and Fast Food Waters, the SDA, last week for conducting an illegal five-year union-busting campaign. To quote Heather, a supervisor at McDonalds in Murray Bridge, South Australia: 'I was pressured into resigning my union membership. They made me frightened I would lose my position as a supervisor. Then, after I gave into the pressure to give up my SDA membership, my hours were slashed because I raised a workplace safety concern.' Take it from Leisha, a former shift manager, who said she felt pressure to resign her union membership 'every step of my employment'. I'm sure we would love to blame this on a few rotten franchisees. That might work, except for the fact that McDonald's own corporate lawyers tried to defend this conduct in the Federal Court. In fact, a survey of 1,500 McDonald's shift managers found 10 per cent had been instructed to engage in anti-union activity. This is happening in hundreds if not thousands of McDonald's stores around this country.

I'm sure if Senator Stoker were here she'd be rigorously defending McDonald's, just as she so loved standing up for the illegal sacking of 1,700 Qantas workers. I can guarantee we will hear deafening silence from those opposite who are still in this chamber about the illegal union-busting wave that is smashing hardworking families around this country. It's this behaviour that is driving the cost-of-living crisis. This is what's underpinning the problem in our workplaces.


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