The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has launched legal action against Qantas over its bonus scheme, which it claims is unlawful adverse action.
Qantas announced the $2,000 bonus ($1,500 for part-time employees) and $500 travel credit in August last year, after the company made a record profit of $1.6 billion. The following month the full bonus was paid to managers and staff not covered by an enterprise agreement.
However, while the $500 travel credit was paid to everyone, Qantas will not pay the cash component of the bonus to 27,000 of its workers who are employed on an enterprise agreement, unless they agree to enter a new enterprise agreement.
Qantas has also said that employees in any particular work group will lose the bonus if they, or one of their colleagues engage in any activity that ‘harms’ the airline.
The ACTU alleges that ‘harm’ could mean workers taking protected industrial action, bargaining for future enterprise agreements, or voting against the company’s proposed agreement.
If this is the case, the conditions attached to this bonus scheme may constitute unlawful adverse action in breach of the Fair Work Act.
There is also the question whether Qantas is coercing employees to approve the new agreement by making the bonus payment conditional on its approval.
The ACTU and the seven airline unions it is acting on behalf of in its adverse action case see the bonus scheme as a way of pressuring Qantas workers into “accepting subpar wages and conditions”.
“Qantas is trying to pressure people into supporting an as-yet unseen agreement in return for a bonus payment freely given to managers,” ACTU Secretary Sally McManus said.
“People working at Qantas have endured pay freezes and huge staff reductions. The company has lifted its financial performance on the back of their work, yet Qantas management want to use their bonus reward as leverage instead of recognition.
“Union members at Qantas are outraged at this decision and see it as a sign of disrespect,” Ms McManus said.