“Depraved” MUA is first union to face legal action for bullying

by Chloe Taylor21 Nov 2014

Most unions are strong activists when it comes to protecting their workers from workplace bullying – the Maritime Union of Australia, it seems, is not.

The MUA and Melbourne port operator DP World are facing legal action, accused of breaching the federal workplace anti-bullying laws which have been in effect since January.

The three employees who filed the claim against their employer and union have also applied for restraining orders against them.

This is the first action taken against a union under federal workplace bullying laws.

It is alleged that co-workers defecated in their boots and urinated on their helmets and overalls, threatening them and referring to them as “laggers” and “dogs”.

Sharon Bowker, Annette Coombe and Stephen Zwarts initially applied for a stop bullying order to be made against the MUA and international port operator DP World, where they are employed at the company’s Melbourne dock terminal.

Following the commencement of three workers’ legal action against the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), the Employment Minister, Eric Abetz, has condemned the bullying of the employees as “depraved.”

Abetz told The Australian Online that this behaviour “shows a depravity of mind that is unacceptable in Australian workplaces.”

He added that the MUA leadership should “cut loose” those responsible.

HC spoke to Joydeep Hor, managing principal at People + Culture Strategies, about employers’ roles in workplace bullying allegations.

“The truth of the matter is that although there are a lot of complaints made about these issues, only a few are found to be bullying cases,” he said. “Investigations made by our firm find that less than 5% of complaints are cases of ‘bullying’. However, that doesn’t change the fact that people who make these complaints feel targeted, so in some ways this is irrelevant – what matters is whether people feel bullied and unhappy.”

Hor stressed the importance of acting quickly in order to avoid a prolonged aftermath.

“First and foremost, when an allegation is made it must be investigated fairly and impartially. It is important to remember that it’s not just the complainant that who has rights,” Hor said. “Employers should conduct investigations quickly and make a judgement call as early as possible, or else this could have a greater impact on the whole workforce than is necessary.”

He also told HC that employers need to carefully consider whether they could be implicated in any way before making a decision or judgement.  

“Before making a decision, employers must question whether the employee being accused was trained – if the employer feels that they actively taught the individual how to behave appropriately in their workplace, then their decision is easier to make – employers can come unstuck if they act decisively but are found not to have the relevant education and training on conduct in place.”

Related articles:
FWC annual report: 343 bullying claims in six months
Solving the dynamic riddle of workplace bullying
FWC backs employer against “incomprehensible” bullying claim


  • by Laura 21/11/2014 11:35:32 AM

    Completely understand the training requirement, but really, at what point do we realise that people should know 'how to behave appropriately in their workplace'? In what world is defecating and urinating on someone's clothes appropriate? Do people really have to be trained in appropriate workplace behaviour in order to understand that this sort of behaviour is not appropriate? I would think that in this case, it would be negligent to find the perpetrators innocent in the event of a technicality - if training hadn't been provided on appropriate workplace behaviours? 'Oh you soiled a co-workers clothes, but we'll let you off this time because we understand you didn't know that it was inappropriate to do so'. Where does common sense and human decency come into it?

  • by HR Guru 21/11/2014 11:41:39 AM

    Article doesn’t really explain how both the employer and Union have engaged in bullying behaviour. Only mention of bullying behaviour is allegedly by fellow employees because they aren’t union members?

    Has the Union encouraged this?
    Has the employer disciplined those employees respoinable for engaging in the behaviour listed?

  • by Deborah Pearson 21/11/2014 12:10:59 PM

    I agree with you Laura. There are certainly grey areas as to appropriate conduct, but defecation and urination on people/clothes are totally innapropriate.

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