Townsville City Council has left court with its tail between its legs after losing an expensive legal fight picked with the CFMEU.
The state’s Industrial Relations Commission tossed out the council’s claim against the union and three representatives on Wednesday marking the end of an 18-month legal battle sparked by a strike outside the Walker St council chambers last year.
More than 80 union aligned council depot workers stopped work on March 5, last year after bureaucrats allegedly tried to muscle an injured comrade out of his job.
The injured truck driver was stood down with pay after raising additional medical problems with his employer.
Court documents say he was asked to undergo a full medical assessment at a doctor of the council’s choosing despite having a medical certificate which cleared him for work. The union reached an agreement with council for the man to sit a functionality test for his role but on multiple occasions the council pushed to have a full functionality assessment done instead, the court documents say.
Discussions between union representatives and council management broke down when the man failed the test, prompting workers to take a stand.
In its claim against the union, council argued the worker was not fit for work and posed a potential risk to himself and the public.
Further, it claimed the union provoked unprotected industrial action with the aim to coerce council to reinstate the suspended worker.
In its published findings the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission sided with the CMFEU and rejected the council’s claims.
The commission ruled the council did not have the right, under its current employment agreement at the time, to force a staff member to sit a medical assessment.
Additionally it found the council failed to establish the union was responsible for the industrial action which happened as a result.
In a statement council said the dispute arose over the steps it was taking to “ensure one of its employees was fit and able to safely carry out his duties”.
“Council considers the safety of its employees and the public are paramount and Council will continue to take all steps necessary to ensure its employees are fit, healthy and able to carry out their duties safely and without risk of injury to themselves or others,” a spokesman said.
The union estimated the council spent close to $250,000 on the “futile” legal action but council rejected this as “grossly exaggerated” saying its legal costs were less than a third of the amount claimed.
CFMEU assistant secretary Kane Lowth said the council wasted enormous amounts of time and money but that the decision sounded a warning to employers that they cannot use involuntary medical assessments as a weapon.
“A long serving Council employee – and one of the heroes of the Townsville floods – was being managed out of his position on spurious medical grounds, and not surprisingly his workmates decided to take a stand,” he said.
“This was a clear case of an employer bullying older and injured workers. This is not about one employee.”
Council would not comment on the prospect of an appeal but said it would make no further comment while the matter remained within the appeal period.
Source: Townsville Bulletin