Qemos decision attacks right to strike
Last week's decision by the Federal Court to accept the sacking of key workers in industrial disputes has major ramifications for Australian workers. Faced with an industrial dispute, plastics and chemical manufacturer Qemos announced a "spill and fill" redundancy program which, according to the National Union of Workers, was aimed at removing shop floor organisers from its Victorian plant. The "spill and fill" process, in which workers are regularly told they must reapply for their jobs, has long been used by government organisations to intimidate their employees. However, the tactic of Qemos management to implement the process in response to an industrial dispute was a significant new development. The Court decided that the Qemos move did not constitute an attempt to discriminate against or coerce union members, since it could not be proved that action was taken against a disproportionately high number of union members. The Court claimed it would not affect any particular employee, and was therefore within the provisions of the Workplace Relations Act. In effect the decision means that employers now have a golden opportunity to dismiss militant employees, providing that, as one commentator noted, management "can make a credible business case for their removal". If employees take any action adversely affecting their employer's profits, action can now be taken to sack them. The Court's statement that the union was at liberty to reapply "if the redundancy process proved to be discriminatory" will come as cold comfort to the Qemos workers and to other workers whose employer will see the decision as a heaven-sent precedent to punish those who step out of line. In a workplace where most or all of the employees are union members, it would be virtually impossible to prove that individuals were. being targeted as union members. Nor would it be any easier to prove victimisation of individual shop floor militants. Despite evidence that Qemos intended that certain employees would "never set foot in the plant again", the judge hearing the case concluded that the "spill and fill" action was not related to impending industrial action by Qemos employees, and that it "could not give rise to an injury of any particular employee". The union is expected to pursue an appeal against the Court decision.