WORKERS involved in building the Longford Gas Conditioning Plant have been served with a Federal Court summons, after walking off the job last February in support of a dismissed colleague.
According to Fair Work Building and Construction, work on the site was stopped after a probationary employee, the peer elected health and safety officer, had his employment terminated and the Australian Worker’s Union became involved.
CB&I, the contractor, is suing for damages, involving the FWBC’s inspectorate.
The employee at the centre of the dispute reportedly did not pass probation.
The FWBC said that by walking off the job that afternoon, and not returning the following day, the 52 employees had taken unprotected industrial action.
FWBC director Nigel Hadgkiss said employees should not take the law into their own hands.
“The dismissed worker could have gone to the Fair Work Commission and had the circumstances of his dismissal fully explored,” he said.
“Instead, workers took it upon themselves to disrupt the construction of a significant piece of Victorian infrastructure.”
However, the AWU said that an employee who is terminated while on probation had very little chance of legal recourse if they thought their termination was unfair.
The union also believed that serving Federal Court summons to employees during a weekend or at home was intimidating and “bullying”.
AWU national secretary Scott McDine said that workers were being ‘blindsided’ by the threats of fines of up to $10,000.
“Bear in mind here that there are no allegations of violence or abuse,” he said.
“These workers simply did what they thought was right in terms of standing up for safety and standards on site.”
Victorian AWU secretary Ben Davis said that it was “cruel”, and that labelling workers as “vigilantes” created the wrong impression.
“It is obvious that the (FWBC’s) Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate wanted to create mayhem, pain and uncertainty for our members, their partners and children,” he said.
“We will vigorously defend the rights of our members, and provide legal representation.”
A FWBC spokesperson said that the serving of the summons was not under their control, as the responsibility was given to a private firm.
He said this was a regular practice, and said that any delays may have been because of the geographical spread of the employees.
CB&I and the plant’s owners, ExxonMobil, were approached for comment.
Under the Fair Work Act, it is unlawful to take part in any unprotected industrial action before the nominal expiry date of an employee’s enterprise agreement has passed.
A case management hearing for the matter has been set for Friday, April 1.
Individuals who engage in unlawful industrial action may be fined up to $10,800 and organisations can face penalties of up to $54,000.