ETU wins major court case against shipbuilder Austal on right of entry

The Electrical Trades Union this month won a major legal case against shipbuilding company Austal who unlawfully refused site access to a union organiser in Western Australia.

The ETU’s appeal victory in the Federal Court this month reaffirms the right of unions to enter workplaces to hold discussions with workers and gather signatures for a majority support determination application. 

On several occasions in 2021, ETU organiser Adam attempted to gain entry to Austal’s WA premises to speak with workers and gather signatures to begin enterprise bargaining. 

Austal denied Adam entry then took legal action against the union. In late 2022, the court ruled that entry for the purposes of obtaining petition signatures was not entry for the purposes of holding discussions. This month that decision was overturned with our union winning its appeal. 

ETU National Secretary Michael Wright said the victory should send a loud and clear message to employers.

“This decision sends a clear message to wages thieves and serial offenders that they have nowhere to hide. Austal sought to gut basic labour rights, and the court’s decision rights that wrong. The ETU will not take a backward step in advancing and protecting our members’ interests. Speaking to workers is our core business, and denying unions that prerogative is a huge threat to workers’ rights,” Mr Wright said.

“Austal has been playing petty union-busting tactics at the expense of workers, showing blatant disregard for basic right of entry laws. By refusing entry of a organiser then dragging us through court, Austal has delayed the enterprise bargaining process for about a year, leaving employees stuck with a dud expired agreement.

“Austal, like so many big businesses, will try every trick in the book to silence workers and prevent them and their unions from exercising basic worker’s rights,” said Michael.  

Blocking the union’s right of entry is a major red flag for workers’ rights at Austal. This is the same company who was caught paying temporary migrant Filipino workers in 2020 far less than the minimum wage with no superannuation, and performing electrical work without the relevant electrical licenses. The following year, despite their poor track record, the company was awarded a $124M contract by the Morrison Government.  

“The federal government must be certain that it’s not facilitating wage theft and flagrant disregard for workers’ rights and must guarantee minimum labour standards on all its contracts,” said Michael.

“Taxpayers have a right to be sure that hundreds of millions of dollars of their money isn’t propping up a potential perpetual wage thief and unjust employer.”

“The ETU’s victory is a step forward for workers’ rights in this country, and demonstrates the importance of unions to protect and advocate for their members.”

This article was publised on 29 November 2023.