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Hutchison Port’s texting turmoil

Hutchison Port’s texting turmoil (Last Updated On: August 9, 2016)

When an employer terminates the employment of one or many of their staff they always need to have a valid reason and follow a correct process. Whilst there have been mutterings about the genuineness of the redundancies in the Hutchison Ports Australia dispute, it’s really the process (or lack thereof) and the method of communication that has upset the workers and most people watching.

On the 6th of August a text message was sent to nearly 100 Hutchison employees in New South Wales and Queensland telling them to check their email. Upon reading their email the employees discovered that their positions were redundant and that they were not required to attend work. The email also informed the employees that there was no possibility of redeployment.  Picket lines and protests followed. And consequently the Maritime Union of Australia made an application in the Federal Court of Australia on behalf of their affected members to have the actions of Hutchison halted. In response to this application, Hutchison has been told to put at least a temporary halt to the termination of the employees who will now be paid until 31 August while the legal matters are allowed to proceed.

So why did the Federal Court make such an order against Hutchison? In the most basic terms the court felt that there was an argument to be made that the process leading up to the redundancies did not meet the consultation requirements under law. It has been alleged by the MUA that Hutchison has breached its obligations under their enterprise agreement to consult with employees leading up to the redundancies. Arguably there was insufficient information provided to the employees about the redundancies and the impact that would have on the employees. Also it’s possible that Hutchison did not abide by dispute resolution processes also contained in its agreement.

But it wasn’t just that there was a lack of process, the actual method of communication and arbitrariness of the decision to terminate employee contracts on the grounds of redundancy has flown in the face of most Australians. A text message and an email in the middle of the night seems harsh. Most people expect that in line with the concept of a ‘fair go all round’ that the affected employees would at least be spoken to personally and given an opportunity to be involved in the process. Instead they were told not to come in the next day with no discussion about the matter. When many employers are not accepting a text message or email for notification of sick leave, is it ok that the employees can have something as significant as redundancy communicated to them by email?

This situation emphasises the fact that redundancies can be tricky to handle and employers should always seek advice not only in relation to the operational requirements of the business but also the process that needs to be followed. The lack of consultation and transparent communication with staff members throughout the decision making process (and the breach of their enterprise agreement) has potentially placed Hutchison in hot water. If you need to make significant changes in your business contact Employsure to be certain that you are compliant in all areas of law affecting you.

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