Union official’s frightening and abusive outburst highlights need for bullying protocols

The Federal Court recently found that a union organiser’s verbally abusive reaction to the request that his meetings with members at a Western Australia construction site be held in a non-air conditioned shipping container, with temperatures exceeding 50 degrees Celsius, was uncalled-for.


In October 2012, when the organiser was shown the meeting location, he addressed site’s suitability with the contractor’s employee relations representative. The representative suggested the organiser raise his concerns with the FWA, at which point the organiser exploded,  “That’s the AWU way; we don’t do things that way. We do things the f..king CFMEU way,”  adding, “I won’t accept you treating the boys like f..king dogs. F..k off!”

Per the representative, the phase at which the project was in determined the meeting location as the only possible site. However, the organiser proceeded to then engage the representative’s deputy, in a verbally abusive and physically uncomfortable manner.

Approaching the deputy to within a metre, the union organiser said, “You want to hit me? Go ahead and hit me, you f..king American. Come on and hit me you f..king American. Hit me, go ahead.”

The judge accepted that such circumstances as a three hour car journey, the day’s heat and the meeting facilities – which even the contracting company’s OHS advisor found unacceptable –contributed to the organiser’s outburst. However, he determined that the union organiser’s conduct was “deplorable”, particularly for someone acting in an official capacity. The judge stated that other avenues existed for the organiser to advance his concern and, “Indulging in racially tainted abusive language was not one of them.”

The judge also cited the CFMEU’s history of its officials conducting themselves unlawfully, in a fashion similar to the organiser’s, and their procedures involving bullying. The union informed the court that the organiser had received a formal warning after the incident and that their training clearly showed that the organiser’s conduct fell short of their standards.

However, the judge responded, “I do not know what this training consists of but whatever it is needs to be bolstered because history suggests that it is observed in the breach”.

The organiser was ordered to pay a $3,000 penalty for his conduct, while the CFMEU was directed to pay a $15,000 penalty for the conduct.

iHR believes that bullying and aggressive behaviour can have a long lasting effect on those it is directed at, with legal consequences for employers. Whether the perpetrator is an employee or a visitor, it is vital that companies have appropriate policies and protocols around bullying and harassment – designating a Contact Office is one such method.

iHR offers training around the importance of the Contact Officer role. Participants will develop an understanding of the role’s responsibilities, particularly when dealing with allegations of bullying and discrimination. Participants will recognise the importance of the Contact Officer role and develop an understanding of the role’s responsibilities, particularly when dealing with allegations of bullying and discrimination.


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