It found that a Qantas manager, Peter Cawthorne, also broke the Fair Work Act by trying to coerce Murray into not exercising his workplace right. It was the first such finding under the Act, ABC News reported.
Qantas appealed the decision, lost and has now been fined AUD13,200. Cawthorne was fined AUD2200.
The case revolved around an incident in which engineer Murray made a claim for entitlements arising from an overseas posting to Narita, Japan. It started when Qantas asked Murray if he was interested in taking up a posting in Narita to provide relief coverage for about six weeks from 4 December 2009 to 16 January 2010. Murray agreed, flew to Narita and carried out his duties working on the Narita shift roster. On returning home, however, he discovered that there were “significant differences between the Narita roster and the Brisbane roster that he normally worked, the effect of which was that longer hours are worked under the Narita roster and higher shift penalties are paid”.
Murray raised this matter with the Narita manager and was advised that he would be paid at the higher rate – but the payment never materialised. Murray then took up the matter with Qantas management.
The court heard that “Mr Murray’s request for additional payment was not well received by the managers at Qantas”.
After an email exchange between Murray and Qantas manager Cawthorne, a telephone conversation took place between the two in which Cawthorne’s tone started as aggressive, quickly changed to hostile and then moved to yelling.
Qantas retaliated against Murray by suspending further postings.
The Licensed Aircraft Engineers’ Association’s National Secretary Steve Purvinas told the ABC that Murray had worked excess hours and more onerous shift work, and in accordance with the enterprise agreement was entitled to additional payments of about AUD10,000.
Purvinas says management pressured Murray not to apply to be paid. Purvinas told the ABC that “management had then turned around and told to all of his [Murray’s] workmates that none of those guys would be able to take one of these overseas postings until such time that Luke [Murray] actually withdrew his claim for payment”.
Murray and his union were represented in court by Giri Sivaraman, from law firm Maurice Blackburn, who told the ABC that the fines sent a warning against bullying.
“It’s significant because it’s rare to see, not just the company, but a senior manager of the company being fined,” Sivaraman said.
“This is a strong message to employers and to bullies in the workplace.”
In imposing the fine, the court noted that “Parliament had set down the maximum penalties for these breaches which, in the case of the first respondent [Qantas] is AUD33,000 and in the case of the second [Cawthorne] is AUD6600.
“The court is obliged to work within that matrix and cannot allow views by whomsoever expressed about the adequacy of the penalties for corporations as large as the first respondent to influence it.”
Qantas issued a statement advising that as a large employer it took its responsibilities under the Fair Work Act seriously.
“The Court has acknowledged the steps Qantas has taken to train its managers in relation to their responsibilities under the Act.” The airline said it did not plan to appeal, the broadcaster reported.
Written by : Peter Needham