You web browser may not be properly supported. To use this site and all its features we recommend using the latest versions of Chrome, Safari or Firefox

Australia Paper

We were very proud to support our comrades in the AMWU and at Paper Australia by defending their legitimate right to take protected industrial action in their fight for better working conditions.

More than 50 employees at the Preston Paper Australia site bravely went out on the grass and started protected industrial action in the form of an indefinite stoppage on January 16 this year in support of their bargaining for better working conditions.

During the stoppage, Paper Australia took the position that they would not negotiate while protected action was taking place.

On February 15, Paper Australia applied to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to have the protected industrial action suspended for the purposes of a “cooling-off” period, on the basis that unless the action was suspended, the company would not negotiate.

Despite the perverseness of Paper Australia’s application, the FWC granted the suspension to Paper Australia.

The AMWU contacted Slater and Gordon and the firm quickly worked to have the decision overturned before the employees were required to return to work the next day in accordance with the FWC order.

Slater and Gordon lodged a notice of appeal, which included an urgent stay of the FWC’s order, and was able to get the FWC to list the case for hearing that night. In its submission, Slater and Gordon told the FWC:

“We have a situation where employees have been taking industrial action in the form of an indefinite stoppage for 30 days. As part of that there is obviously pressure being built up against the company. The action is taken legitimately as a mechanism under the Act to improve their bargaining position…If this order is to take effect at 6 am tomorrow, it would immediately or quickly undo all the work of the employees...There is no way to rectify that. If the stay is not granted, the employees then lose all the benefit of the 30 days that they have been engaged in …protected, legitimate industrial action.”

The FWC accepted Slater and Gordon’s submissions and granted a stay on the suspension order, meaning that the employees could continue their industrial action and were not forced back to work.

Last week the Full Bench of the FWC issued its decision in the appeal and overturned the original FWC decision.

According to Practice Group Leader Industrial and Employment Law, Geoff Borenstein, the only power Paper Australia employees had was protected industrial action and their employer was trying to take that away from them.

“If the original order had been allowed to take effect, it would have immediately undone all the hard work and sacrifices the workers had gone through and removed the pressure the Company was under,” Geoff says.

“Therefore, it was critical that we acted immediately to overturn the decision to preserve the rights of the union and the workers, and thereby, not suffer any loss in bargaining power.”

After the stay order was won, not surprisingly, the company appeared to reverse their “no negotiation during industrial action” policy, and agreed to meet and negotiate with the union.

On Tuesday 6 March, the workers returned to work after reaching an in-principle agreement. The agreement included no reduction in RDOs and every worker getting a pay rise.

In its decision, the Full Bench said that Paper Australia’s refusal to bargain contravened the Fair Work Act.

“If the legislature had intended for either party to be able to withdraw entirely from the bargaining process while protected industrial action was occurring, then such an option would have been identified in the FW Act, but it is not."

Geoff Borenstein spoke to Workplace Express after the Full Bench decision.

"In this case, the employer, Australian Paper, had taken the position that it would not bargain while the protected industrial action of the union continued," he said to Workplace Express.

"This is not an uncommon tactic by employers, and had the potential to significantly increase if the original decision was left to stand.

"It is therefore very important that the Full Bench stated that it was difficult to see how such a refusal could be consistent with the objects of the Act.

"The only effective bargaining tool which employees have is their ability to take protected industrial action.

"This decision decisively dispels the employers' mythology that they can defeat this vital right of employees by manipulating the system and refusing to bargain,” he said.

We recognize how hard it is to take protected action under the current Act and Slater and Gordon will continue to fight hard to protect and defend the rights of our comrades to take protected action.

Thank you for your feedback.

Related blog posts

Employment Law
National industrial manslaughter legislation would save lives

Strong national industrial manslaughter legislation is what Australian workers need, but a national law is not supported by the Federal Government. As a Workers’ Compensation lawyer in national law firm, I see the lack of consistency across the states and believe there should be national standards to protect all workers. Workers should feel safe no matter what state they live in. The recent death of a worker in Sydney’s Port Botany who was crushed between two shipping containers, and delays in commitment from the NSW Government to investigate industrial manslaughter laws, highlight the need for national reform. In the meantime, the NSW State Government needs to take fast action on...

Outdoor construction worksafe
Employment Law
Accepting jobs through apps puts workers’ rights at risk

Workers getting jobs through apps like Airtasker and Uber Eats are not receiving the benefits they are entitled to, are often unaware of their current hourly rate and most are not covered by work-related insurance. Research from Queensland University of Technology, the University of Adelaide and University of Technology Sydney, commissioned by the Victorian Government, showed about seven per cent of 14,000 respondents had found work on a digital platform (the gig economy) in the past year and 40 per cent of those did not know how much they were earning per hour. It showed younger people (aged 18-34) and males were accepting work through digital platforms in higher proportions than other...

Shutterstock 1388236754 Resized
Superannuation and Insurance
Injured at work? Remember your Super fund

If you’re one of the 15 million Australians with a superannuation account, you’ll probably know which fund(s) you’re with, as well as having an approximate idea of your balance. You may even know how your money is being invested by the superfund. However, what many people don’t realise is that it’s also likely you will have some sort of disability insurance cover through your superfund. This is especially important if an illness or injury affects your ability to work. In this article, we want to give you a better idea of what superannuation insurance is, including when you may be able to use it and how the claims process works. As well as helping members save for their retirement,...

Man Crutches

We're here to help

Start your online claim check now. Or, if you have a question, get in touch with our team.