February 27, 2024


Tomorrow, the District Court of NSW will hold a hearing to decide the amount Qantas will be fined in landmark penalties for the unlawful stand down of Theo Seremetidis, a former health and safety representative, who raised concerns about worker safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

This criminal prosecution is a first of its kind and follows charges laid by the NSW safety regulator over the targeting and standing down of a trained Health and Safety Representative acting within his functions under the Work Health and Safety Act.

In February 2020, Mr Seremetidis was stood down by Qantas for a year after he gave a direction to workers to cease unsafe work.

At the time the direction was given, workers were being made to clean planes arriving from pandemic hotspots in China without adequate personal protective equipment, Covid-safe training, or disinfectant – just water and one rag to clean multiple tray tables. These conditions were confirmed by a SafeWork inspection shortly after Mr Seremetidis was stood down.

The verdict is a watershed moment in Australia’s labour history, marking the first instance where a major airline has faced criminal prosecution for violations of workplace safety regulations.

This sets a precedent for holding corporations accountable and sends a powerful message about the importance of ensuring the safety and well-being of workers across all industries.

TWU NSW/QLD State Secretary Richard Olsen said Mr Seremetidis’s case highlighted the responsibility corporations bear in upholding workplace safety standards, especially amid crises like the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Whatever the outcome, Theo is a hero who stood up for the safety of his workmates, and then stood up against Qantas when the airline illegally stood him down.”

“Although Qantas has often acted like it is untouchable, no company is above the law when it comes to safeguarding the health and well-being of its employees. It’s a reminder that corporations must adhere to the highest standards of safety protocols, without compromise.”

TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said while this may be a first of its kind prosecution brought by a brave worker, it’s far from the airline’s first offence.

“We know Qantas has historically had a large budget for fighting legal cases – it’s part and parcel of a business model that exploits loopholes and ignores the law.

“With up to $1 million in penalties for standing down Theo, upcoming compensation and penalty hearings for 1700 illegally sacked workers, an ACCC prosecution and a class action ahead, Qantas can’t keep writing off legal bills as a cost of doing business – despite making an eye-watering $3.72 billion underlying profit in just 18 months.”

“We need to see a complete cultural shift at Qantas and a Safe and Secure Skies Commission to restore balance, fairness and stability to our essential aviation industry.”

Join the TWU today

Transport workers are fighting for a fairer, safer industry. Join them today and secure your future.

Join Today