Court fines Baulderstone & two senior managers in freedom of association case

The Federal Circuit Court has fined construction company Baulderstone $25,000, and two of its former senior managers $3500 each, after they changed a worker’s employment conditions because he resigned his CFMEU membership. Judge Manousaridis found that “the conduct was deliberate and concerted”.

The worker was employed with Baulderstone on a contract which included the role of Safety Officer. After the worker ceased being a CFMEU member, the two senior managers, Nicole Kidman and Razz Razlog, got him to sign documents which changed him from a contractor and Safety Officer to an employee under Baulderstone’s workplace agreement.

“Ms Kidman concealed the purposes for which she required [the worker] to sign the documents; and she required [the worker] to sign the documents in the face of [the worker] telling her he did not understand why he was being put on wages,” Judge Manousaridis said in his decision.

His Honour said Ms Kidman and Mr Razlog told the worker he had to sign the documents because his “role as a Safety Officer and being on a salary doesn’t work out” when a significant factor was that he was no longer a CFMEU member.

Judge Manousaridis found that the worker “did not sign the documents in the exercise of his free choice; he signed them because Ms Kidman and Mr Razlog made it clear to [the worker], and [the worker] understood, that he was required to sign the documents”.

Ms Kidman, Baulderstone’s Human Resources Manager for NSW and ACT and Mr Razlog,an Employee Relations Manager for NSW and ACT were executing a decision made by another manager, Mr Stavrinos. His Honour said a significant factor in Mr Stavrinos’ decision was that a CFMEU delegate had complained about the fact the worker was no longer a CFMEU member.

His Honour noted that FWBC submitted that the victim “was a vulnerable worker because of his shyness, limited education, and lack of understanding of why he was being required to sign the documents that were presented to him at the meeting…” The Court said it was “difficult to characterize Ms Kidman’s and Mr Razlog’s succeeding in having [the worker] sign the documents as anything other than the exploitation of the vulnerable situation in which [the worker] found himself.” As a result, the worker suffered “the loss of a valuable right”.

The Court made note that “Baulderstone, a large enterprise, did not have in place in 2010 any ‘management structures, systems and process[es], designed to manage its industrial relations on construction sites,’.” His Honour also said that Baulderstone expressed no remorse of regret. Mr Stavrinos, Ms Kidman and Mr Razlog no longer work at Baulderstone.

FWBC Director Nigel Hadgkiss said all building and construction industry participants had the right to choose whether or not to be a member of an industry or employer association. “Freedom of association breaches are very serious and we will not hesitate to take employers to court where they do not respect this valuable right,” Mr Hadgkiss said.

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