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Qantas charged under work health and safety laws for standing down employee over Covid-19 concerns

Qantas has been charged under work health and safety laws for allegedly standing down an employee who raised concerns about cleaning an aircraft that arrived from China early in the Covid-19 pandemic.

SafeWork NSW has confirmed it filed charges against Qantas Ground Services in the NSW District Court on October 6.

“The charges were filed under section 104(1) of the Work Health and Safety Act (NSW) 2011 and allege that QGS engaged in discriminatory conduct for a prohibited reason as defined in section 106 of the Act,” a SafeWork NSW statement said.

“The charges relate to QGS standing down a worker who raised concerns about potential exposure of workers to COVID-19 while cleaning aircraft in early 2020.”

Section 104 of the NSW Work Health and Safety Act prevents employers from discriminating against a worker for raising safety concerns or carrying out their role as a health and safety representative.

The case will be first listed before the court on December 6.

In a statement Qantas said the employee, Theo Seremetidis, was told not to come to work while he was investigated for allegedly breaching standards of conduct for “attempting to incite unprotected industrial action”.

“There are established, legal mechanisms for health and safety representatives to follow if they have concerns. Qantas supports and encourages our employees to utilise these mechanisms if they have safety concerns,” the airline said.

“It’s worth noting that there was not a single positive Covid case carried on our flights back from China.”

The charges come after a complaint was lodged with SafeWork by the Transport Workers Union on behalf of Mr Seremetidis, who claims to have been stood down on February 2, 2020.

Qantas has previously said he was directed not to attend work on February 7, 2020 before being stood down on March 30, 2020 along with 20,000 other employees as a result of the pandemic and border closures.

He was later made redundant as part of the company’s ground handling outsourcing decision.

Camera IconThe Transport Workers Union’s NSW secretary Richard Olsen welcomed the court action. NCA NewsWire / Damian Shaw Credit: News Corp Australia

In a statement the union said the charges related to a health and safety representative who advised colleagues to cease unsafe work on planes arriving from China in early 2020, due to the risk of Covid-19 exposure.

At the time Qantas was not providing cleaning staff with personal protective equipment and the risk to employees was “negligible”, the union alleged.

Qantas denies this claim and asserts staff were provided with safety equipment including masks, gloves and gowns.

TWU NSW State Secretary Richard Olsen said SafeWork’s prosecution of Qantas was a “first of its kind” and welcomed the regulator’s decision.

“We hope the court throws the book at Qantas for their outrageous decision to stand down a worker who was simply trying to keep himself and his colleagues safe at work,” he said.

More to come.

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