Industrial action cloaked as aviation safety issue: justice

A JUSTICE has ruled aircraft maintenance engineers took industrial action "cloaked as an aviation safety issue" when they complained about cockpit door locks on a Qantas subsidiary's fleet.

Six men were accused of misconduct over complaints Sunstate Airlines Dash 8 aircraft cockpit doors could be opened with a paddle stick or a rolled-up boarding pass.

Sunstate, which carries regional air passengers under the business name QantasLink, issued each engineer with formal warnings and deducted four hours pay.

Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association, which had unresolved industrial issues at the time, argued in the Brisbane Federal Court that Qantas had breached the Fair Work Act because the employees were exercising a workplace right under Civil Aviation Regulations.

But Justice John Logan, in a judgment delivered on Tuesday, said the engineers' actions, which grounded a number of Sunstate aircraft on October 19, 2010, were "not the acts of men faithful to their trade responsibilities".

Justice Logan said myriad people commuting daily by air relied upon people employed in this trade to faithfully perform their duties.

He said it was important licensed aircraft maintenance engineers worked in a culture where they were encouraged to report aircraft faults.

But Justice Logan said such responsibilities must not be exploited by employers and unions negotiating pay and conditions.

"The evidence establishes that the QantasLink operators, materially Sunstate, did promote and encourage aircraft fault reporting," he said.

"It is subversive of such a culture and antithetical to the public interest for what are in reality industrial actions to be cloaked as aviation safety issues."

Justice Logan said none of the LAME employees were not tasked to undertake any scheduled maintenance to the cockpit door or lock that evening.

"It is clear to me ... that each of the LAME employees deliberately sought to find these so called defects on the aircraft concerned that evening," he said.

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