United Lifts fined $200K for illegal sacking of ETU delegate

The Federal Circuit Court has fined United Lifts $200,000 after finding the company wrongly sacked ETU and AMWU delegates in 2021, after they complained about safety and entitlements.

A scathing decision from Judge Humphreys found the dismissal and other actions by United Lifts contravened the Fair Work Act.

The company moved to terminate both the ETU delegate and an AMWU delegate hours before a deadline for voluntary redundancies, and on the same day that the construction industry re-opened after a COVID lockdown was lifted.

The Court had ‘considerable difficulties’ accepting United Lift’s claim that the workers were made redundant based on lack of skills, and the company failed to provide evidence of its financial difficulties at the time.

The Judge found United Lifts NSW manager lacked credibility as a witness and that the company failed to provide evidence of claimed financial woes.

It was ‘particularly troubling’ that a workplace diary kept by the AMWU delegate was found onsite in the middle of the room destroyed by turpentine on every page two days after the delegate informed the company director that he was keeping the diary.

The Judge found that both delegates made legally protected complaints around issues including the 36-hour week, unlicensed electrical work, safety and entitlements that were covered in a recently concluded EBA.

After his sacking the ETU delegate was forced to move his family to Canberra from the NSW Central Coast. The AMWU delegate said he was fired while his partner was about to have a baby, and he was forced to accept a lower-paid job.

“This case is a prime example of why we need better protection for delegates,” said ETU NSW & ACT Secretary Allen Hicks.

The judgment was delivered as the ETU recently secured a new industry agreement that requires employers to pay union delegates an extra $3 an hour. If the employer wants to sack a delegate, they must engage in a mandatory 10-day consultation. A majority of the workforce must approve any company decision to transfer the delegate offsite.

“Sacking these representatives was a disgraceful act and one that the employer probably would not have tried on if the reported proposed delegate laws were already in place,” said Mr Hicks.

The delighted ETU delegate said about the court win ‘‘I’m happy we got the win. I’m happy we were able to prove what went on and what happened to us.

‘The impact on me and my young family has been huge. When I was terminated, that left me blindsided and deeply shocked. It’s been a long two years of sleepless nights since. Today’s decision brings closure and peace for us.

The lift technician was told of his dismissal in a 30-second phone call that left him ‘in shock’.

‘I’d always strived to be my best and there was never any criticism of my work, diligence or attitude.

‘I was actually headhunted by United Lifts once I completed my mature age apprenticeship at another company,’ said the delegate, now aged 37.

‘I became a delegate because the workers at United Lifts needed a voice. They needed someone to come to when they needed help. I just wanted to make sure everyone was looked after.

“We work in a dangerous industry. You need someone who puts safety first and that is exactly what a union delegate does. It is the delegate who makes sure everyone can go home safely to their family at night. As a dad with two young daughters, that’s something I never forget.”

He thanked the ETU legal team and former lifts organiser Steve Bankes for their support throughout his two-year ordeal.

‘I was proud to be an ETU delegate. I’m grateful for the ETU’s awesome effort in getting this just outcome in my case.’

‘My case and my experience is a prime example of why we need strong rights and protections for delegates. I’ve seen how companies think they can get away with targeting delegates. I support more effective protections that ensure delegates can play their role without intimidation or victimisation. Delegates must be protected and supported especially so they can monitor and speak out without fear on health and safety issues.

‘I want to thank my wife. Her support got me through this. I also thank the ETU. The union stuck with me from day one, from the EBA, my termination and two years of legal cases.’

ETU Secretary Allen Hicks said the union will always support delegates who are unfairly targeted by employers.

“Our workplace leaders are the heart and soul of the ETU. We stand 100% with our delegates and the great work they do every day,” he said.


This article was publised on 31 July 2023.