High Court ruling tipped to have wide-ranging impact on business

“When companies outsource workers like Qantas, they effectively avoid having to bargain with their labour. Instead, they engage labour hire agencies and dictate to those agencies what they are willing to pay for labour,” Maurice Blackburn principal Josh Bornstein – who represented the sacked workers – said.

“Outsourcing has been one of the reasons that employees have lost the ability to obtain real wage increases. Qantas engaged in a collective bargaining avoidance scheme and, thankfully, the High Court has recognised that it was illegal.”

The win is expected to embolden the federal government’s attempts to change Australia’s industrial relations laws which were already drawing opposition from corporate Australia.

Maurice Blackburn referred to companies with similar outsourcing issues such as BHP which operates with tens of thousands of contract workers who could be affected by the government’s same work, same pay provisions in the proposed legislation.

“BHP estimates the financial impact of SJSP to our Australian operations will be up to $1.3 billion annually. This cost is equivalent to the labour cost of approximately 5000 full-time employees across our operational workforce,” the company said in May this year.


Amanda Lacaze, the chief executive of rare earths group Lynas, also expressed concern if these laws were extended to the mining industry.

While Qantas accepted the High Court decisions and apologised to the affected staff, it did not resile from the action taken at that time.

“The decision to outsource the remainder of the airline’s ground handling function was made in August 2020, when borders were closed, lockdowns were in place and no COVID vaccine existed,” Qantas said. “The likelihood of a years-long crisis led Qantas to restructure its business to improve its ability to survive and ultimately recover.”

The court decision will put further pressure on the Qantas board ahead of its annual shareholder meeting which is due to be held in early November.

The company was forced to accept an early retirement date from former chief executive Alan Joyce after the competition regulator proposed fines in the hundreds of millions of dollars if found to have breached consumer laws. The regulator alleges that Qantas was advertising tickets for thousands of already cancelled flights in 2022.

Qantas has yet to reveal the bonuses that Joyce will be paid for his final year at the embattled airline.

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