Injunction granted to halt lockout

Cases

Injunction granted to halt lockout

The Federal Court has granted injunctive relief to employees of Geelong Wool Combing Limited (GUC), as the employer's lockout notice was invalid.

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The Federal Court has granted injunctive relief to employees of Geelong Wool Combing Limited (GUC), as the employer's lockout notice was invalid.
 
The employees did not receive three days' notice of the lockout and thus did not have an opportunity to consider how they would respond to the notice, as is contemplated by s170MO of the Workplace Relations Act 1996.
 
The fact that GUC agreed to pay the workers for the three days, and suggested that they feared industrial sabotage if workers were allowed to remain on site for the three days, did not satisfy the court that the requirements of the section had been met.
 
The intention of the company in initiating the lockout at the Corio site was 'to bring pressure to bear on the employees and the union' to agree to the company's workplace agreement proposal. Such pressure and behaviour could be construed as coercion in contravention of s170NC, and gave rise to a serious question to be tried.
 
Background
 
GWC prepared a letter to all employees advising of the lockout and a notice pursuant to s170MO. The letter detailed the reason for the lockout, that being the failure to reach agreement with the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia (the union) on a new bargaining agreement for the site. It also stated that workers were not required to attend for work between receipt of the letter and the time when the industrial action in the s170MO notice commenced. The letter went on to detail 'flexibility' arrangements that had been implemented at other sites and which they wished to implement at the Corio site.
 
The Notification of Intended Lockout document detailed the relevant shifts and commencing and finishing dates and times starting variously from 1-3 May and finishing on 30 and 31 May. The documents were dated 24 April 2003 but were not received by the employees until 28 and 29 April, some being handed to the employees when they arrived to commence their shifts. Employees working the evening shift which finished Monday morning, 28 April, were given the letter and notice and advised that the lockout would commence that morning. When questioned about the three days' notice they were told that they would be paid for the three days. They were told to get their belongings and leave by the back gate.
 
As workers arrived for the start of the 6am shift they found the gates locked and were handed a copy of the letter and notice. Remaining employees who had not attended were telephoned, and advised that they would be receiving letters and that they should not attend work.
 
Reasoning
 
Justice Goldberg considered: 'The ability of an employer to lockout employees from employment with immunity from action under s170MT of the Act depends upon the initiation of a bargaining period and the service of a notice under s170MO.
 
'In the present case the union instituted a bargaining period on 20 December 2002, pursuant to s170MI of the Act, and on 4 March 2003 the Company instituted a bargaining period pursuant to s170MI of the Act. It was therefore open to the company to lock out the employees and be protected from any action for so doing if it gave the appropriate notice.'
 
The lockout in this instance commenced at 6am on 28 April and not as indicated in the s170MO notice. 'The employees and the union should have the opportunity of a three-day notice period within which to consider, collectively, how they will respond. In the ordinary course the employees would have had that opportunity collectively whilst at work. It is a disadvantage to the employees and the union not to have this opportunity.'
 
The injunction sought was granted.
 
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