Commission orders Stevedores to end unprotected industrial action

Commission orders Stevedores to end unprotected industrial action

Commission orders Stevedores to end unprotected industrial action

This matter further highlights the need to provide Union Delegates with the required level of supervisory training. In highly industrialised workplaces, delegates are seen by regulators or third parties as akin to supervisor roles, with allegations of serious bullying, intimidation and other negative conduct having long-reaching impacts up and down the organisation. If these negative behaviours are or are not tolerated because of their delegate status, management is placed in a lose-lose situation. In short, you can’t keep a tiger in-house without damage, risks, costs, teeth marks and losses, no matter how strong your desire. However, sometimes, the trail of damage means the tiger simply must go.

The Fair Work Commission has granted an employer’s request that employees stop engaging in unprotected industrial action that arose after the dismissal of a union delegate alleged to have engaged in serious bullying, intimidation and unsafe conduct at the workplace. However, it was not found that the Union was involved in the action.

SeaRoad Shipping Pty Ltd (SeaRoad) is part of an Australian shipping and logistics business that operates sea freight and transport services, including services between Webb Dock in Port Melbourne, Victoria, and Devonport in Tasmania.

At Webb Dock, SeaRoad employs approximately 74 stevedores, six foremen who are also stevedores, two supervisors, one Port Operations Manager, and One General Manager of Operations. The stevedores and foremen are covered by the SeaRoad Shipping Enterprise Agreement (Stevedoring) 2023, with a majority being members of the CFMEU.

Following an internal investigation into various allegations of misconduct, the site’s delegate was dismissed on 12 February 2024. The Union has lodged a reinstatement application contesting the dismissal.

SeaRoad claims that they have been subject to episodes of unprotected industrial action since the dismissal. Actions included adopting practises that have resulted in a restriction or limitation on delays of performance work, commonly referred to as a ‘go-slow’. Employees were also refusing to accept offers of overtime which amounted to a ban, and are said to have resulted in a significant drop in productivity.

SeaRoad submitted to Deputy President Val Gostencnik that only five employees have agreed to work overtime since the delegate’s dismissal. The business also claimed to have sighted messages referring to ‘overtime rats’ and ‘the noose is tightening for rats’.

SeaRoad sought orders in the Commission that, pursuant to section 418(1) of the Fair Work Act 2009 industrial action be stopped, not occur or not be organised.

SeaRoad sought orders from the Commission pursuant to section 418(1) of the Fair Work Act 2009.

As the Deputy President noted, “I am satisfied that SeaRoad’s employees at Webb Dock who are members of the CFMEU are engaging in the form of a ban, limitation or restriction on the performance of overtime work and on the acceptance of overtime work. It is also uncontroversial that this action is not protected industrial action and I am so satisfied. “

Although the Deputy President issued orders restricting employees from engaging in further industrial action for a period of one month, he could not determine that the Union itself was involved.

As he noted, “This evidence all points one way – that the CFMEU was not and is not organising the industrial action about which the complaint is made”. He encourage the Union to counsel its members to abide by the orders he had issued, preventing further action.

Searoad Shipping Pty Ltd v Construction, Forestry and Maritime Employees Union (C2024/1610) 20 March 2024

For queries about unions, industrial action, or other employment questions, please contact Dean Cameron at Workforce Advisory Lawyers – We Know Employment Law on 0417 622 178, 1300 WAL LAW or via email to dean.cameron@workforceadvisory.com.au

Disclaimer: This information is provided as general advice on workplace relations and employment law. It does not constitute legal advice, and it is always advisable to seek further information regarding specific workplace issues. Liability limited by a scheme approved under professional standards legislation.

Ref: 416.0324

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