Qantas has vowed to appeal a court ruling that its decision to outsource thousands of jobs was unlawful, saying it "fundamentally disagrees" with the decision.
The Federal Court found on Friday that the airline giant's decision to dump some 2000 ground staff and engage sub-contractors instead may have been partly driven by a desire to prevent future industrial action.
That is a prohibited motivation under the Fair Work Act and makes the November 2020 decision unlawful.
The Transport Workers' Union, which brought the case on behalf of the dismissed workers, said workers "whose lives have been put into turmoil" will be expecting their jobs back as soon as possible.
A TWU survey of the workers found that 77 per cent want their jobs back. Some 75 per cent have not been able to find full-time work.
But Qantas says the union is giving its workers false hope because the court has not yet ruled on whether the jobs should be reinstated.
The company warned that it will resist any attempts to make it give the staff their jobs back or pay them compensation.
Qantas Group executive John Gissing said that the TWU had a "persecution complex".
"The fact is, Qantas deals with the operational risk of industrial action on a regular basis ... That risk pales in comparison with a pandemic that has grounded our fleet and our people for months, and has so far cost us $16 billion in revenue," he said.
Mr Gissing insisted the decision to outsource the ground handling operations was made only for commercial reasons.
The company says it's saved more than $100 million a year.
"It absolutely had nothing to do with" the high union membership among the workers, Mr Gissing told reporters on Friday.
"We were investing in ground handling, we were recruiting, it was a growing business, and then the pandemic hit and that pulled the rug from under us."
The TWU argued in court that the idea to outsource the jobs pre-dated the virus and that the company simply took advantage of the pandemic to push its plans through.
Justice Michael Lee denied the union's claims that the litigation was a test case on outsourcing in general, describing it as a "fact-specific" case.
"Despite some public statements to the contrary, this is not a test case about the industrial phenomenon of 'outsourcing', nor indeed is it a test case about anything at all," he said.
Justice Lee knocked back other parts of the union's claims, including about who made the decision to outsource.
Under the Fair Work Act, Qantas had to prove that it didn't take into account a prohibited reason when its executive Andrew David decided to take the ground-handling operations to a sub-contractor.
But the judge said it was difficult to establish what the motivations for the decisions were, as Qantas' witnesses were well-prepared and the documents about the decision were created with legal risk in mind.
He did not criticise Qantas for that, but said that "people often write or speak with greater candour if they assume their comment is going to be kept confidential".
The outsourcing decision left baggage handlers, ramp workers and cabin cleaners across 10 airports including Sydney and Melbourne out of work.
The federal opposition applauded the court's decision.
Shadow ministers Tony Burke and Catherine King congratulated the workers for standing up for their rights, and called on the government to develop a plan to give more support to the aviation sector.
Australian Associated Press