Porn investigation exposes TWU members


Internal investigation at Dairy Farmers depot uncovers widespread abuse of company IT systems by TWU members

Porn investigation exposes TWU members
Porn investigation exposes TWU
By Brad Gardner | April 4, 2011

Fair Work Australia has taken aim at employees who send and receive lewd emails, after a Dairy Farmers investigation exposed widespread abuse of the company’s IT system by Transport Workers Union members.

The seven NSW TWU members working at Dairy Farmers’ Wetherill Park site were sacked after the investigation found they stored and distributed more than 300 offensive items –including pornographic images – over email.

The evidence was detailed during an unfair dismissal hearing, where the TWU claimed its members should not have lost their jobs because they did not receive training on how to use the company’s email accounts.

"For any employee to argue that they require training not to send or access email pornography at the workplace is disingenuous nonsense. It is akin to arguing that having no knowledge of drink driving laws is a defence for doing so," Fair Work Australia Deputy President Peter Sams says.

"It is not only inappropriate and a theft of the employer’s time, but raises the real risk of employer liability for ensuring its employees occupational health and safety, due to the potential harassment by other employees."

The investigation was triggered after a supervisor saw two employees viewing pornography at work. Sams says Dairy Farmers had an obligation to take action.

"It would have been, at best, negligent and possibly vicariously liable, if it had not," he says.

The sacked union members were part of a group of 39 employees caught misusing the email system.

A computer expert was brought in by the company during the investigation and found that one union member, Darrel Batterham, had sent or received 147 inappropriate messages.

Fair Work Australia heard that Ronald Batterham had sent or received 33 messages and three graphic images, while Kashif Usman’s account had 76 messages and seven graphic images.

Siegbert Kroegel, who is a TWU delegate and chaired a safety committee within the company, had sent or received 23 messages.

According to the investigation’s findings, George Sharkawy and Natalie Husar sent or received 16 and 20 messages respectively. Nicholas Agius was also dismissed for his involvement in the practice.

TWU organiser Peter Lane tried to prevent mass sackings once Dairy Farmers informed him of what was happening. He told the company to "draw a line in the sand" by issuing a final warning to the offenders.

According to Lane, the practice had gone unchecked for 10 years. However, Sams rejected union claims there was a culture of sending and receiving vulgar emails.

He found that management had issued warnings and held training sessions informing employees of their obligations.

"That so many employees chose to ignore the warnings and disregard the respondent’s policies is hugely disappointing, but fault can hardly be laid at the respondent’s door for that," he says.

"These seven applicants and many others blissfully ignored the risk they were taking by doing so and have paid the penalty."

The union claimed other employees might have accessed its members’ email accounts.

"I note that not one of the applicants could name anyone who they suspected of accessing their emails, nor could any of them say they had observed other employees accessing inappropriate material and they all denied accessing other employee’s emails themselves," Sams says.

He also rejected accusations that Dairy Farmers sacked the workers to avoid paying $300,000 in redundancy entitlements because the Wetherill Park site was due to close.

"It was an unfounded allegation, thrown around, without any real basis in fact," Sams says.

During proceedings, Dairy Farmers’ human resources manager, Pearl Thompson, told Fair Work Australia she was shocked a TWU delegate and chair of a safety committee would be involved in distributing pornography.

Sams says Kroegel’s failure to complain to management about the emails or to those sending them "is inexplicable and unacceptable" considering his position on the committee.


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