SYDNEY, AAP – Qantas has been criminally charged after a cleaner and health and safety representative was stood down after raising concerns about COVID-19 risks when cleaning aircraft arriving from China in early 2020.
Theo Seremetidis was “brushed off” when he asked about COVID-19 measures in late January last year, according to the Transport Workers Union’ NSW.
The union said he was stood down days later, with Qantas saying in a statement at the time it was because he was providing misinformation to workers.
Qantas said there were “established, legal mechanisms for health and safety representatives to follow if they have concerns” and that it “supports and encourages” its employees to use them.
The company said Mr Seremetidis was told not to come to work while he was being investigated for not following conduct policies.
The investigation was paused when Mr Seremetidis was stood down along with 20,000 other employees due to the pandemic and border closures at the end of March last year.
SafeWork NSW is prosecuting Qantas, alleging the company “engaged in discriminatory conduct for a prohibited reason” by standing down Mr Seremetidis while he was performing his duties as a health and safety representative.
TWU NSW state secretary Richard Olsen said the prosecution is “a massive step forward for work health and safety in NSW and across the nation”.
“Qantas stood Theo down simply for trying to protect himself and his colleagues from COVID, and now the company is rightly facing criminal charges for doing so,” Mr Olsen said.
Last week, Mr Seremetidis told a Senate Committee on Job Security he “became a target” when he started raising safety issues, and said he was stood down while other workers were threatened with disciplinary action.
“Workers were treated as dispensable,” Mr Seremetidis said.
“We were directed to clean planes with just water… PPE was not mandated despite managers wearing HAZMAT suits,” Mr Seremetidis told the Committee.
“We weren’t even provided masks or disinfectant,” he said.
AAP has been told employees were provided masks, gloves and gowns, and planes were cleaned with a neutral disinfectant.
Qantas could face fines totalling millions of dollars for the alleged offences.
The first hearing is scheduled for the NSW District Court on December 6.