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Qantas faces prosecution over coronavirus dismissal

Qantas faces prosecution over coronavirus dismissal. Source: Getty

Qantas will face prosecution over standing down a staff member who in February refused to clean a flight from Beijing over fears of contracting coronavirus.

SafeWork NSW has issued a notice of formal investigation on Qantas and CEO Alan Joyce, claiming multiple breaches for “discriminatory conduct and prohibited behaviour” against the worker. 

Qantas has refused to reinstate the worker, who was stood down on February 2, saying the employee’s concerns were not valid.

The staff member received a letter from Qantas, which stated: “In these circumstances, and with the information available to you, you cannot reasonably be concerned that working on aircraft originating from China would expose you to a serious risk to your health or safety or that there is a risk of immediate or imminent exposure to Coronavirus.”

On Thursday, a Qantas spokesman said the company would help SafeWork NSW with its investigation.

"A union delegate was stood down pending an investigation after incorrectly telling employees it was not safe to work on aircraft arriving from China in early February," the spokesman said in a statement.

"This was against the advice of health authorities and despite additional safety equipment being provided to employees."

TWU responds

The Transport Workers’ Union said it was “incomprehensible” that the Sydney worker was stood down.

“Now with the company wide stand down, Qantas have put their own internal investigation on hold, leaving the worker uncertain of his future, and we are watching the company scramble to manage their own actions,” TWU NSW branch secretary, Richard Olsen stated.

Olsen said Qantas has “shut down” workers’ legitimate concerns throughout the pandemic.

“This has had a massive impact on the entire workforce during a very stressful time as many people have been afraid to raise concerns,” he said.

“This is not the way to conduct a safe and efficient airline.”

The investigation comes after 11 Qantas baggage handlers at Adelaide Airport tested positive to coronavirus, with up to 100 workers potentially exposed. 

“With Qantas baggage handlers in another state now infected there have clearly been fundamental problems in how Qantas has managed this across its network,” Olsen said.

“We demand that the worker Qantas stood down in Sydney is reinstated and we demand that the airline steps up and begins acting responsibly. This must be done to protect workers but also the travelling public.”

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