GUILTY: Qantas shares plunge after criminal conviction

A health and safety representative was sacked after he asked for better protection for staff cleaning planes from China.

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Qantas Airways Limited (ASX: QAN) shares are down after a court found the airline guilty of a criminal charge relating to the way it treated a staff member.

SafeWork NSW had brought the case to a NSW District Court after its investigation into the standing down of the airline's health and safety representative Theo Seremetidis.

The court ruled on Thursday morning that parts of the mistreatment depicted by SafeWork NSW was established beyond reasonable doubt.

Ultimately the judge found Qantas guilty of the charge of discriminating against Seremetidis for carrying out his duties as a health and safety rep. Two other charges relating to threatening him with disciplinary action were dismissed.

Qantas shares are down 0.56% on Thursday morning at the time of writing.

No protective equipment for plane cleaners

Back when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit Australia, Seremetidis instructed some workers to "cease unsafe work", namely cleaning planes that had just arrived from China.

Qantas management told the safety rep to stop coming to work from 7 February 2020.

Seremetidis had also raised alarm bells about cleaning staff not being provided suitable personal protective equipment to protect them against a virus with unknown consequences at the time.

The Australian government had not yet blocked transport from China at the time.

The judge stated that Seremetidis was a credible witness and that he "attempted to carry out his duties as an HSR [health and safety rep] conscientiously and carefully".

A Qantas spokesperson told The Motley Fool that the airline acknowledged the verdict and would "review the judgment" before further comment.

Qantas urged to show 'it has changed its ways'

The Transport Workers' Union urged Qantas management to show "it has changed its ways" by accepting the guilty finding and apologising to Seremetidis.

TWU president Richard Olsen thanked SafeWork NSW for this "unprecedented prosecution".

"Theo courageously took on one of Australia's biggest corporate bullies and won," he said.

"Theo always acted diligently to protect his colleagues, and the evidence brought in this case proved that he thoroughly researched the risks, asked the right questions of his employer, and requested protective equipment and training for workers cleaning planes from covid hotspots."

Olsen added that Qantas went beyond merely ignoring Seremetidis.

"[Qantas] set out to punish and silence him for acting in his role as a highly trained HSR."

Motley Fool contributor Tony Yoo has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia's parent company Motley Fool Holdings Inc. has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Scott Phillips.

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