Fair Work Commission reinstates Aircraft Engineer who drove unregistered tow motor on public road

A 60 year old Aircraft Engineer has won his job back after Jetstar terminated him for breaching ‘Cardinal Safety Rules’ at Avalon Airport in Victoria.

The dismissed employee, Mr Gill had worked as a Licensed  Aircraft Maintenance Engineer for 30 years, the last four and half of which were for Jetstar. He had an exemplary employment record having never before been disciplined by his employer.

In July 2015, the engineer drove an unregistered tow motor on a public street to the local BP service station to buy some lunch because he was ‘hungry’. The van usually available to staff had broken down. He did not use his own car even though it was parked only a few metres away.

Jetstar investigated Mr Gill’s conduct and was satisfied that he had breached Jetstar and Qantas policies, and a ‘Cardinal Rule of Safety.’ The engineer admitted the conduct but pleaded that it was a one off aberration. He said he had not thought about anything other than how hungry he was. He had started work at 4.30 am that morning and had to service another plane arriving at 2.00 pm.

In ordering Mr Gill’s reinstatement, Commissioner Cribb of the Fair Work Commission found that although there was a valid reason for the engineer’s dismissal, it was nevertheless harsh because his actions were not a deliberate disregard of Jetstar’s safety rules. The Commissioner also took into account Mr Gill’s age, his inability to obtain alternative employment, his good employment record, that he was the sole breadwinner for his family, his immediate admission to the conduct and his obvious contrition.

Importantly, the Commissioner was referred to a number of other safety breaches at Jetstar where the employee responsible had not been terminated. On one occasion an engineer had failed to undertake a mandatory check which would have shown that an engine oil cap was not fitted.  The plane had to make an unscheduled stop because of a loss of oil that could have resulted in serious consequences for the 300 people on board. Jetstar ordered the engineer responsible for the omission to make a video on how not to make the same mistake. On another occasion, a main landing gear on an aircraft was not safe-tied during safety testing. The landing gear swung loose and missed an apprentice by inches. The engineer responsible received a formal warning. Commissioner Cribb ordered that Mr Gill  be reinstated to Tullamarine airport where he could be subject to closer supervision. She also refused to order that he be paid for the seven months between the date of dismissal and the date of her decision.

Lesson for employers

This case once again demonstrates that policies and practices must be applied consistently if an employer wishes to rely on a breach to justify dismissing an employee. Employees should be made aware of their employer’s policies and the possible consequences of not complying with them. Factors causing the breach and whether the conduct was deliberate must also be seriously considered.

For more information regarding this article, please contact Jakov Miljak on 1300 361 099 or email jakov.miljak@neca.asn.au.