The Fair Work Commission has found that a 50 year old  airline services operator for Qantas who breached his employer’s safety rules 3 times in 20 days was not unfairly dismissed and that his breaches were considered all the more serious, given that he had 14 years’ experience in his role.

The worker’s safety breaches consisted of driving the wrong way down a one-way tunnel, driving too close to an aircraft and deliberately colliding with another tug..

In his unfair dismissal claim, the worker tried to argue in mitigation of his conduct that other employees frequently drove the wrong way down the tunnel and that he had been keeping a look out for oncoming traffic before he did so.  The worker also argued that the collision with the other tug arose due to his misjudgement and that the other driver had stopped in an inappropriate place and had verbally provoked him.  The worker further argued that the dismissal was harsh, given his age and the impact it had on his personal circumstances, and his 14 year tenure at the airline.

Qantas contended that the worker’s years of experience should have provided him with greater familiarity with safety requirements and procedures.  The airline also pointed to the fact that the worker had, in recent years, been provided with a formal warning letter regarding unsafe driving practices, as well as being counselled on the importance of safety.   In addition, the airline had CCTV footage of the safety breaches, and it was apparent from this footage that the collision with the other tug was deliberate.

The Fair Work Commission agreed with Qantas’ arguments and found that the airline was justifiably concerned about the worker’s conduct, given the potentially adverse effect that conduct could have on his own and others’ safety (which was acknowledged by the worker) and the fact that all 3 safety incidents occurred in a relatively short period of time.  Also relevant was the fact that the worker’s role often required him to work unsupervised, and the fact that the worker did not have an unblemished safety record.

In relation to the worker’s length of service with the airline, the Commission considered that it did not make the termination harsh, but rather rendered his safety breaches more serious.  The Commission considered that the misconduct was so severe that it outweighed the worker’s length of service, age and personal circumstances.

While this case highlights the importance the Commission places on matters of safety, employers must nevertheless act reasonably in taking disciplinary action against employees for such breaches.  As was the case here, an employer must ensure that employees are aware of their safety obligations and that prompt action is taken in relation to any breach of these obligations.

Rouady v Qantas Airways Limited [2016] FWC 33

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