A Queensland fabrication company has been slammed by the Federal Court for breaching the Freedom of Association provisions in the Fair Work Act and fined $45 000.
In April, the court found Sunstate Coatings, a subsidiary of the Fero Group, had unlawfully coerced and pressured AMWU members to resign from their union.
The company was also found to have manufactured a false disciplinary record against one AMWU member because of his association with the union. The member was subsequently made redundant and the court awarded him $3000 in compensation for the false disciplinary record.
In his decision, Justice Reeves said the conduct of the company and of David Lew (General Manager) and David Cusick (Operational Manager), both of whom are no longer employed at the company, was deliberate and occurred over four months.
Justice Reeves found Sunstate’s senior management had committed a “serious breach of the coercion, inducement and adverse action provisions of the Fair Work Act.”
The AMWU had been organising workers prior to the beginning of management’s campaign of intimidation.
Workers approached the AMWU with a range of workplace issues. It was at this point that the company tried to implement an agreement without bargaining with the union.
In court, the company admitted to coercing an employee to resign from the AMWU. The general manager, David Lew, called a meeting and acted in a threatening and intimidating way by singling out employees in front of other workers and interrogating them about their union membership. Mr Lew also made threats to reduce workers pay to the minimum wage and threatened their employment security unless they resigned.
In one case, David Cusick pressured AMWU member, Hank Daamen, to resign from the union by claiming that the worker “owed him a favour” because he had assisted the employee to obtain a crane licence. He also implied Mr Daamen would be sacked if he did not resign.
Mr Daamen was 62 years old at the time and suffered from high blood pressure which was exacerbated by the conversation with management. It also caused him to suffer a series of panic attacks and develop a post-traumatic stress disorder, which he is still suffering from.
Mr Daamen said he’s glad some justice has been done.
“I’m happy with this result but the most important thing is that it sends a message to other companies that this type of behaviour is completely unacceptable. Bullying and harassment in the workplace should never be tolerated and the effect this can have on a worker should not be underestimated.
“The atmosphere the company created in the workplace was disgraceful. People were happy to leave when the intimidation started but it wasn’t that easy for me to just leave. I stuck it out in the union with one of my colleagues, Tony Jones, and we stood up for what we believed was right. We got a good result and hopefully the company will treat all workers decently after this.”
AMWU Qld Secretary Andrew Dettmer said the court’s ruling was a major success for the members.
“This victimisation of workers is despicable. We simply will not accept our members being bullied and harassed for invoking their fundamental right to representation at work. Let us be clear: where it does occur, we will hunt down the offenders regardless of what it takes.
“This is one of the most shameful cases of bullying and harassment that I have seen in all my years working for the union. It was a blatant, sustained and targeted attack and I want to congratulate the members involved for sticking to their guns and not backing down in the face of such aggression.”