THE Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) has directed a stevedoring group to put the maritime union and its members ‘on notice’ that employees will not be paid if they take unlawful industrial action in future, including go-slow tactics at its Fremantle Port.
Patrick Stevedores and the FWO reached the agreement after the company admitted to paying 160 employees who took unprotected industrial action late last year, in contravention of the Fair Work Act.
Section 474 of the Act makes it illegal for an employer to make payments to employees for certain periods of unprotected industrial action, and likewise, section 475 makes it unlawful for employees to ask for such payments.
As part of the Enforceable Undertakings agreed to with the FWO, Patrick Stevedores will administer training to employees so that they better understand their obligations under the Fair Work Act.
Additionally, the company will implement a system to improve productivity monitoring, after it last year complained that the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) had organised employees to engage in ‘go-slow’ tactics, resulting in reduced productivity.
Throughout November 2013, the company reported significant reductions in container movements per crane gang, representing more than a 50% productivity decline.
The organisation said the reduction was linked to a cap of 200 crane movements, resulting in an economic loss of around $600,000.
Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said that an employer who fails to deduct wages from employees engaged in unlawful industrial action threatened the integrity of the legislation.
“Section 474 is an important part of the regime intended to prevent the occurrence of non-protected industrial action,” she said.
“For this reason we have entered into this Enforceable Undertaking with Patrick to put the stevedore industry on notice – as inaction on our part would only encourage repeated use of such industrial action as a pressure tactic when industrial disputes arise.”
The FWO uses Enforceable Undertakings when an employer acknowledges a contravention of the Act and accepts responsibility, and agrees to co-operate in order to remedy the problem.
“Many of the initiatives included in EUs help to build a greater understanding of workplace responsibilities, motivate the company to do the right thing and help them avoid the same mistakes again,” Ms James said.
“It also means we can resolve matters more speedily than if we proceed down a path towards litigation, often achieving outcomes, such as training sessions for senior managers, which are not possible through the Courts.”
AMMA’s workplace relations experts can provide guidance and advice about your obligations under the Fair Work Act. For more information, contact your local AMMA office.