The Federal Court has found two members of the Maritime Union of Australia’s Western Australian branch sought to exact revenge on Fremantle Port workers
A Federal Court judge has ordered the Maritime Union of Australia and two of its members to pay $215,000 in penalties and compensation after the union’s Western Australian branch distributed ‘vengeance’ posters degrading those that did not taking part in a strike at the Fremantle Port.
In his ruling, judge Anthony Siopis found MUA’s Western Australian secretary Chris Cain and his former deputy Will Tracey contravened the Fair Work Act by seeking to “exact vengeance” against the five workers, one of which did not work on the day, as the goal to halt the operations at the port failed.
The posters, which described the workers as ‘scabs’, were distributed over two days in December, 2011 across the inner and outer habour and also made the front cover of the West Australian newspaper, though the five employees were not named in the article.
The court fined the MUA $80,000 and Tracey $15,000, and ordered both to pay $20,000 compensation to the four workers who worked and a $40,000 compensation to the individual that did not.
The judge concluded Cain and Tracey have “a deeply embedded distain and contempt for employees who go to work when their co-employees are on strike” and consider those that do as “’disloyal’, ‘low life’, ‘scum’ and ‘despicable’”.
Creating and distributing the posters was “the product of a discussion between Mr Cain and Mr Tracey at a breakfast meeting on 6 December 2011”, the judge found, as “each of Mr Cain and Mr Tracey intended to inflict emotional distress and fear on each of the named employees, and in that respect they succeeded.”
“Each of the five named employees experienced a continuing fear of physical harm to themselves and their family, and the fear of damage to property,” Siopis says in his statement, with one individual’s emotional distress “further exacerbated by the fact that Mr Tracey had told him that he would not be able to work again in the maritime industry in Western Australia”.
Siopis acknowledged that while the decision to create and distribute the posters was not made with the involvement of MUA’s senior management, there needed to be a “general deterrent of precluding persons and corporate bodies… from misusing their power to harm those individuals who choose to exercise their workplace rights in a manner with which those persons or corporate bodies disagree.”
The Fair Work Ombudsman, who investigated and brought forward the litigation, says the decision sends a clear message.
“The conduct in this matter showed a complete disregard for the workplace rights and the personal wellbeing of individual employees,” Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James says.
“The conduct had a significant personal impact on the affected workers and the Court has clearly taken a dim view of the behaviour.”
Neither the MUA nor its Western Australian branch responded to ATN’s questions.