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Harsh and unjust, Iveco sacking backfires

Iveco's Italian head office’s intervention into its Australian operations to demand an employee's sacking blows up in the company’s face

By Brad Gardner | May 18, 2011

Iveco Trucks’ Italian-based owner’s decision to intervene in its Australian operations to demand an employee’s sacking has blown up in the company’s face.

Fiat, which owns Iveco and is based in Turin, overruled Australian-based management after it warned spare parts manager Johannes Robat for accepting a reconditioned car engine from an Iveco supplier and using company equipment and facilities to transport it to his place.

Although Robat had never received a copy of the company’s code of conduct he was accused of breaching, Italian management told Iveco it wanted him gone. A subsequent meeting was held between Robat and Iveco Managing Director Giorgio Gallia to inform him his position was untenable. Robat did resign, but launched an unfair dismissal claim on the basis he was forced into it.

Commissioner John Lewin labelled the truck manufacturer’s actions as an attempt to forcefully induce Robat’s resignation. In his written judgement, Lewin chides Iveco’s treatment of the 59-year-old, saying it had elements of “harshness, injustice and unreasonableness”.

“In my view, the decision of local management was appropriate when the warning was issued. That was a carefully considered and measured response to the situation in the relevant context in Australia,” Lewin found.

“In an employment context and in the particular factual circumstances of this case, the revision of this decision to a much harsher sanction of termination without any different or additional factual basis, in my view, was unreasonable.”

Lewin ordered the company to compensate Robat $13,023.15.

Fair Work Australia was told that Iveco decided against terminating Robat because he was never notified of the company’s code of conduct. The decision failed to satisfy Fiat.

“The evidence shows that Fiat management in Turin persistently sought a revision of the decision not to terminate Mr Robat’s employment,” Lewin says.

The commissioner ruled that Iveco and Fiat’s actions “would no doubt have been confronting and threatening” after Robat was first told he would be warned but then informed he had to go.

He says the treatment amounted to a form of double jeopardy because Robat was penalised twice for the same offence.

“I consider there to be elements of injustice and unreasonableness in Mr Robat having been subject to different and escalating sanctions for his single act of wrong doing, based on the same facts,” Lewin says.

However, Robat’s compensation was halved from $26,046.29 after Lewin ruled the manager committed contributory misconduct.

“I consider there to have been an element of negligent culpability on Mr Robart’s part in failing to carefully consider the appropriateness of accepting the engine,” Lewin says.

He says Robat should have had some concerns about accepting the Chrysler Valiant engine from the supplier’s owner, who told Robat a customer had failed to collect it despite paying for it long ago.

“The proprietor made this offer to Mr Robat because he was aware that Mr Robat was a car restoration hobbyist and had restored the model of car for which the engine had been produced,” Lewin says.

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