Union fined $35,000 over unlawful industrial action by Qantas baggage handlers

23 July 2010

The Transport Workers Union was today fined a total of $35,000 for organising unlawful industrial action by Qantas baggage handlers in Adelaide and Melbourne.

The penalty was handed down in the Federal Court in Adelaide following a prosecution by the Fair Work Ombudsman.

It was the first time the workplace regulator had initiated legal proceedings against a union for alleged unlawful industrial action.

Justice Anthony Besanko found that the TWU committed two breaches of workplace laws by organising Qantas baggage handlers to engage in unlawful industrial action at the Adelaide and Melbourne airports in December, 2007.

The baggage handlers were variously engaged by Qantas, Blue Collar Recruitment Pty Ltd and Ready Workforce Pty Ltd. The majority were TWU members.

The industrial action was aimed at preventing a planned review by Qantas of baggage handling operations at Adelaide airport. The TWU was concerned that the review raised the prospect of outsourcing work which could have resulted in job and wage losses for its members.

The Fair Work Ombudsman alleged that the industrial action was unlawful because it was conducted before the Qantas baggage handlers’ enterprise bargaining agreement expired in 2008.

The Court found that 15 domestic Qantas flights from Adelaide were delayed for up to three hours and 12 minutes and up to four Qantas flights from Melbourne to Adelaide were delayed by up to five hours and 20 minutes. 

Following the Fair Work Ombudsman investigation, the TWU agreed to its members at all capital city airports participating in a one-hour training session on the rights and obligations of employees, unions and union officials under the Fair Work Act.

While two breaches of the law could attract a maximum penalty of $66,000, the Fair Work Ombudsman and the TWU jointly submitted to the Court that a $35,000 fine would be an appropriate penalty in this instance.

Handing down his decision, Justice Besanko said: “The (TWU) has taken corrective action, expressed contrition and co-operated with the authorities from an early stage. On the other hand, the contraventions were serious and deliberate.

“The Adelaide strike resulted from encouragement by a high-ranking official of (the TWU). In those circumstances, a substantial penalty is called for.”

The TWU must pay the $35,000 fine by August 23.

See Decision: Fair Work Ombudsman v Transport Workers' Union of Australia (PDF 466.1KB)

Media inquiries:

Craig Bildstien, Director, Media & Stakeholder Relations,
0419 818 484

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