'Shameful': Qantas fined for standing down worker over Covid concerns

Qantas has been hit with an $A250,000 ($NZ267,000) fine after it was found guilty of breaching workplace health and safety laws in standing down a worker for raising Covid-19 concerns.

The airline agreed in late February to pay $A21,000 to Theo Seremetidis, a trained health and safety representative who directed others not to clean planes arriving from China early in the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Seremetidis was stood down by Qantas subsidiary Qantas Ground Services (QGS) in February 2020, hours after he told others to cease cleaning and servicing planes over concerns staff could be at risk of contracting the virus.

Judge David Russell handed down the $250,000 penalty to Qantas in the New South Wales District Court on Wednesday.

"The conduct against Mr Seremetidis was quite shameful," he told the court.

"Even when he was stood down and under investigation, QGS attempted to manufacture additional reasons for its actions."

Judge Russell said Qantas acted to advance its own commercial interest in taking the action.

"There was a gross power imbalance between senior managers at QGS and Mr Seremetidis, a part-time employee on a modest wage," he said.

The airline faced a maximum penalty of $500,000.

It is the first instance of a major airline facing criminal prosecution for violations of workplace safety regulations.

Mr Seremetidis directed workers not to clean the planes under Section 85 of the Work Health and Safety Act, which sets out the right of workers to cease unsafe work.

The court was previously told the decision to stand down the health and safety representative went to the "upper echelons" of the primary defendant and its parent company.

Prosecution barrister Matthew Moir said Qantas gave priority to its commercial and operational interests over the health and safety of its workers.

But Qantas lawyer Bruce Hodgkinson argued the airline had been attempting to deal in an educated and informed way with the fast-unfolding pandemic.

NSW Work Health and Safety Minister Sophie Cotsis said no safety representative should be stood down for doing their job.

"Let this case stand as a warning, not just to Qantas but to all employers, not to discriminate against their health and safety reps," she said.