Meat employer cops substantial penalty over 'severe' RoE breach

In a rare right of entry penalty ruling against an employer, the Federal Circuit Court has fined a Qld abattoir $12k after its senior management refused entry to an Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union (AMIEU) organiser.

Greenmountain Food Processing, which last year was subject to the first decision involving the Fair Work Act's frequency of entry provisions (WF 16/05/15), had claimed the union breached FWC's May 2014 recommendation to only visit its premises once a month. That was despite the recommendation not having force of law and only lasting three months.

On January 15, 2015, the company's general manager Jason Giddens refused the AMIEU organiser entry, despite receiving his notice two days prior. The company later admitted its breach after the union launched proceedings.

Judge Salvatore Vasta said Greenmountain's conduct was a "very clear" and "deliberate" breach of entry rights - "a debasement of the rule of law, and senior management were involved".

"It is for this reason that I look upon this matter extremely seriously."

Respect FW Act or there'll be anarchy: Judge

The judge warned "[i]f people do not respect the FW Act, then we will have anarchy, and the industrial relations regime will disintegrate to a point where, not only within the country, but externally, a deleterious result will mean that workers and the Australian society as a whole are going to be affected".

He considered a "substantial" $20k penalty out of a maximum $51k was appropriate, but applied a 40% discount based on mitigating factors.
Those factors included the company's early admittance and that "it would be difficult for the employer to run the business they are running at this point in time, and their margins are slim".

Judge Vasta said the breach also had to be put in context. He accepted Giddens "was doing something he thought, mistakenly, was protecting his employees", although in doing so he was committing "a very severe" breach of the law.

He ordered Greenmountain to pay $12k within six months and that it pay the Commonwealth and not the union.

"It seems to me that ordering that pecuniary penalties imposed for breaches of the law of the C'wealth, be paid to entities other than the C'wealth, has the potential to upset the balance achieved by the FW Act," he said.

"It may be thought that applicants have motivations other than maintenance of the Rule of Law in pursuing civil remedies, if pecuniary penalties are routinely paid to them rather than the C'wealth."
However, he noted it "may be different if an applicant has suffered financially".

(AMIEU v Greenmountain Food Processing [2015],FCCA 2655, 03/09/15)