A miner at the Saraji coal mine, who was sacked after he waved a sign that stated: "No Principles – Scabs – No Guts", has lost a court case to have his job reinstated.
Doevendans had been working as a machinery operator at the mine for 24 years.
The CFMEU claimed the dismissal was a breach of the Fair Work Act which states an employer cannot fire a worker for participating in industrial activity.
However the High Court dismissed an appeal by the union against a Federal Court Ruling that upheld BHP’s decision to fire Doevendans.
BHP said that waving the sign was in violation of its workplace conduct policy that states workers should respect fellow employees.
It said Saraji’s general manager Geoff Brick regarded Doevendans conduct as not only contrary to the policy, but antagonistic to the culture that Brick was endeavouring to develop at the mine.
It was argued that Doevendans' was well aware of the policy and demonstrated arrogance when confronted with objections to his conduct.
The High Court sided with BHP stating it is “incorrect to conclude that, because the employee's union position and activities were inextricably entwined with the adverse action, the employee was therefore immune, and protected, from the adverse action".
General secretary of the CFMEU Andrew Vickers said the decision was a “blow” to workers’ freedom of speech, The Australian reported.
“We maintain our belief he was targeted for sacking not because he was holding a sign but because he was a union delegate. The word ‘scab’ is of common and historical use in Australian industrial disputes; it’s not a personal insult but a reflection of collective values.’’
Vickers claims BHP has used the “excuse of a code of conduct to put a worker out of a job”.
Australian Mines and Metals Association’s executive director, policy, Scott Barklamb said using offensive language at a picket line was akin to workplace bullying.
“Industrial hate speech like ‘scab’, ‘dog’ and ‘mongrel’ must become as unacceptable in our society as insults and discrimination based on race, sex and religion,’’ he said.
“Times have changed: industrial abuse belongs in the dustbin of history.’’