AMWU delegate Paul Lavery has been given a hero’s welcome back to his job at McCain’s after the Federal Court suspended a decision to sack him over the way he stood up for workmates.
Mr Lavery was clapped into work by fellow AMWU members for his first shift at the Ballarat plant in seven weeks, backed by a court order that he be allowed to represent them, unhindered by management.
McCain’s Mr Blackamore claimed Mr Lavery had “bullied” him by being too aggressive in industrial dealings and that he had stared him down when their eyes met across the staff canteen.
Justice Mordy Bromberg granted an injunction against Mr Lavery’s sacking.
He ruled McCain’s must reinstate Mr Lavery until the full case can be heard against his sacking for alleged “serious misconduct” against production manager Tim Blackamore.
All the allegations came only hours after Mr Lavery had advised McCain management that a fellow AMWU member would be likely to make a bullying complaint against Mr Blackamore.
Mr Lavery, a delegate at McCain’s for 13 years, denied all the manager’s allegations.
McCain’s brought in an outside contractor, LKA, to investigate. It found Mr Blackamore’s claims of aggressive staring were inconclusive and could not substantiate claims of bad language and interfering with management on the shop floor.
But McCain’s stood Mr Lavery down then sacked him on September 24.
It acted after LKA alleged Mr Lavery had been “angry, intimidating and confrontational” in defending AMWU members, though one of Mr Blackamore’s fellow managers said it did not amount to bullying.
Justice Bromberg said that in past cases of alleged bullying, McCain’s had informally counselled employees rather than sacked them. Mr Lavery had been given no explanation why he was treated differently.
The judge said an inference could be drawn that Mr Lavery was sacked because of his union activities.
McCain’s human resources manager, who in June appraised Mr Lavery as “a valued employee”, accepted the company had never before complained about the way he acted as a delegate.
Justice Bromberg said Mr Lavery should resume work in McCain’s French Fries Plant, which is separate to his normal cleaning work at the Prepared Food Plant on the same site, with the company agreeing it will ensure he is available to assist fellow unionists in prepared foods as usual.
Mr Lavery said he was shocked to be sacked after 23 years service but always confident of returning.
“The union has given me total support and a lot of calls and texts from workmates have helped my family though what has been a long haul,” he said.