The precarious nature of picketing

Cases

The precarious nature of picketing

The Federal Court of Australia has issued interlocutory injunctions against the organisation of pickets at a manufacturing plant, on the basis that there was an arguable case that the pickets were intended to coerce the company to accede to a proposed enterprise agreement.

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The Federal Court of Australia has issued interlocutory injunctions against the organisation of pickets at a manufacturing plant, on the basis that there was an arguable case that the pickets were intended to coerce the company to accede to a proposed enterprise agreement. (ACI Operations Pty Ltd v AMWU & Ors, [2000] FCA 393, 30 March 2000).

Since the middle of 1999, the manufacturer of glass products (ACI) and the AMWU have been engaged in an industrial dispute over a new enterprise agreement. As part of this dispute the union organised picketing at an ACI plant and the plants of certain customers of ACI. In response ACI commenced proceedings in the Federal Court on 10 March 2000. ACI sought the imposition of penalties against the union for contravention of s170NCof the Workplace Relations Act 1996. These proceedings relate to interlocutory injunctions to restrain the union from picketing activities.

The basis of the ACI application for interlocutory relief was the claim that the picketing instigated and conducted by the AMWU was intended to coerce the company to agree to the terms of a new enterprise agreement. In this regard, the company submitted that the picketing was therefore in contravention of s170NCof the Act.

Merkel J commenced consideration of this matter by referring to the Full Court decision in David's Distribution Pty Ltd v National Union of Workers, (1999) 165 ALR 550, where it was concluded that:

...irrespective of whether it merely involved communication of information to persons entering or leaving a site or whether it also involved preventing or hindering those persons from entering or leaving that site, picketing is not industrial action and therefore cannot be protected action.

In considering the scope of s170NC, his Honour also referred to his own decision in Australian Workers' Union v Yallourn Energy Pty Ltd  [2000] FCA 65 (8 February 2000), (HR Link 22/2000). His Honour observed that s170NCis cast in wide terms and that the notion of intention relates to the result that a party desires to obtain by its action. In the Yallourn Energy case, his Honour noted that "...each step and counter step by the parties in the current dispute appears to be intended to advance their respective bargaining positions in relation to the new enterprise agreement". Merkel J was of the view that the same observation could be made in respect of the activities of ACI and the AMWU.

In this matter, Merkel J only needed to be satisfied that there was a serious issue to be tried. It was held that ACI had established a serious issue to be tried in respect of the claim that the picketing activities contravened s170NC. It was also held that the picketing activities were likely to cause ACI financial harm. Therefore, it was held that ACI made out its case for injunctive relief.

His Honour ordered that until the trial of the s170NCproceedings, the union was restrained from organising, continuing or threatening to organise the physical obstruction or impediment of goods or people to and from the business premises of ACI or its customers.

 
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