Right to speak up upheld in first discrimination conviction

The right of workers to speak up about safety without fearing for their jobs has been upheld in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court, in the first discrimination conviction under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004.
News article published

Monday 24 Jan 2011

Industries and topics
  • Claims

Patrick Stevedoring Pty Ltd, a subsidiary of transport infrastructure giant Asciano, was convicted and fined last Friday after being found guilty of discriminating against a worker who raised concerns about cargo lifting procedures in 2007.

“Protecting yourself and your co-workers by raising health and safety matters at work isn’t just a right, it’s a necessity,” WorkSafe’s Executive Director for Health and Safety, Ian Forsyth, said.

“Discriminating against someone who’s trying to speak up about safety issues isn’t something WorkSafe takes lightly – and this prosecution sends a clear message to all employers that it’s unacceptable,” he said.

The company was convicted of three charges under section 76 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004, and fined a total of $180,000.

Under section 76, it is an offence to dismiss, injure or alter a worker’s position to his or her detriment, or threaten to do so, just because the worker has raised a safety concern or exercised their power as an HSR.

In her sentencing remarks, Magistrate Rosemary Carlin spoke about the “serious instances of discriminating behaviour” which had occurred, and the need to deter other employers from discriminating against their workers.

The prosecution of Patrick Stevedoring relates to a series of incidents in 2007, where an experienced stevedore, who was also an elected health and safety representative, was given warning letters, stood down, and threatened with dismissal after raising concerns about a method for lifting cargo loads of steel in and out of vessels.

The worker’s concerns related to the safety of a ‘basket lifting’ technique for lifting steel loads, which a client of Patrick Stevedoring wanted to introduce.

At the time, company procedure required the use of a different technique, called ‘double wrapping’, to lift steel loads.

The worker raised concerns about the safety of the basket lifting technique on three occasions in 2007, and objected to using the basket lift.

In a meeting between the worker and a Patrick Stevedoring manager, the manager threatened to dismiss the worker and stood him down for a week.

At a later date, the worker received a disciplinary letter with a number of complaints against him, including that he had refused to indicate whether he would follow instructions to use the basket lift to load cargo.

Patricks Stevedoring pleaded not guilty to all the charges.