Australia: Standing down of employees during COVID-19
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, multinational airline Qantas Airways Ltd (Qantas) and its subsidiary Jetstar Airways Pty Ltd (Jetstar) determined to stand down its licensed aircraft engineers pursuant to the applicable enterprise agreements. The validity of those stand downs was challenged by the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association.
The Federal Court of Australia (Court) recently held that the stand down of employees by Qantas and Jetstar was lawful.
Stand down provisions can only be invoked in certain circumstances. The Court explained that stand down provisions in Australia serve two purposes:
- to provide financial relief to an employer from paying wages in circumstances where, through no fault of its own, the employer has no work that the employees can usefully perform; and
- to protect the employees from what would otherwise flow from the termination of their services.
The Court was satisfied that the stoppage of work experienced in that case was the substantial stoppage of domestic and international passenger flights, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the travel and quarantine restrictions imposed by various tiers of Government.
This decision overturned some lower Court decisions that created some angst amongst employers in all jurisdictions in Australia in respect of when stand downs can apply.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented unique industrial scenarios across many sectors. In this case, Qantas and Jetstar could rely on the stand down provisions within their respective enterprise agreements to stand down employees as a result of the stoppage of work that they experienced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
For more information please contact Sathish Dasan on +61 8 8210 1253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Qantas Airways Ltd v Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association (No 3)  FCA 1428.
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