13 February 2010

QANTAS has been accused of Sex Discrimination after sacking 14 female aircraft cleaners..

Test for new laws after Qantas fires female staff

QANTAS has been accused of sex discrimination after sacking 14 female aircraft cleaners and replacing them with male baggage handlers in a restructure that saw no women offered retraining in jobs traditionally done by men.

A complaint was lodged yesterday with Fair Work Australia under new workplace laws which make it easier for the regulator to consider sex discrimination disputes.

The case, brought by the Transport Workers Union on behalf of 56-year-old Hurstville mother Souad Palmer and her co-workers, is the first to test the new law as unions gear up to push gender equity and discrimination cases this year.

The president of the ACTU, Sharan Burrow, said Qantas's treatment of the women was ''disgraceful'' and called on its chief executive, Alan Joyce, to step in.

A Qantas spokeswoman said: ''We absolutely deny this is about excluding women from Qantas … 40 per cent of our employees are women.''

Ms Palmer was told this week that Monday will be her last day, and she must hand in her uniform. She is upset she was asked to train her replacements, men moved across from baggage and ramp duties into aircraft cleaning, under a merger of the two sections.

It takes up to 1½ hours to clean a plane, where temperatures can be hot, and the work physically hard as she bends over repeatedly to pick through 300 seat pockets, vacuum and clean toilets.

''When we walk onto a plane it looks like it has been hit with a tornado. There is heaps of mess,'' Ms Palmer said.

She says she would have ''loved to give it a go'' taking on a role that would also see her working in the baggage area with the men, instead of being automatically terminated.

''This is an outrageous double standard as Qantas have simply presumed that we can't do the [men's work], yet they believe that the ramp guys can do our job.''

The national secretary of the Transport Workers Union, Tony Sheldon, said: ''Women have been directly discriminated against. They are multiskilling men into jobs done by women and no woman has been given that opportunity, despite glowing references.''

The women had been employed on rolling six-month contracts. Despite a convention that after 12 months temps are made permanent, none of the women were offered roles, while all 47 male temps in baggage handling became permanent.

If mediation by the commission does not resolve the case, it will go to Federal Court as the first test of sex discrimination provisions under Fair Work.

Unions would seek redress on gender workplace issues using powers restored to Fair Work Australia and the Fair Work Ombudsman, Ms Burrow said.

The Qantas spokeswoman said Qantas lost a cleaning contract for another airline, and had dismissed the temporary workers to protect the jobs of permanent workers.

Ms Burrow said there was a need for ''a long overdue culture shift'' as there were only ''a pathetic number'' of women on boards in Australia, and chief executives did not see or value the work of women.

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