A dramatic decline in permanent and secure employment, systemic underpayment and exploitation, sexual harassment and bullying and wage inequality and growth are among the many issues concerning Australian workers.
These practices are jeopardising hard-fought employment rights that many of us hold dear – regular pay, protection, fair conditions as well as occupational health and safety standards, injury compensation, and superannuation.
Since 1919, we have been providing successful and innovative legal advice to trade unions and workers across Australia on issues ranging from workplace disputes, industrial action and good faith bargaining to breaches of awards and agreements, and union right of entry matters, among others.
Alongside our Union allies, we have also lobbied governments for better rights and conditions and have run and won many employment and industrial law cases that have improved the lives of working Australians and helped create a fairer society for all.
- Worker exploitation: Protecting underpaid workers at 7-Eleven
- Class action for workers’ with intellectual disabilities
- Sexual Harassment: Investigation upholds sexual harassment complaints against former High Court Judge Dyson Heydon and prompts Court reform
- Reinstatement: worker sacked by BP for sharing downfall meme returned to work with compensation
Worker exploitation: Protecting underpaid workers at 7-Eleven
When the systemic underpayment and exploitation of 7-Eleven workers was revealed by ABC’s Four Corners and Fairfax Media in 2015, the nation was aghast.
Workers had been routinely underpaid, not by accident, but by widespread doctoring and fabrication of payroll records, time sheets and rosters. There was also proof of understated wage bills, store reviews and explosive documents relating to payroll compliance from the head office of the country’s biggest convenience store chain.
7-Eleven worker exploited by systemic underpayment
Recognising the magnitude and unlawfulness of the situation, we stepped in and offered to represent workers who had been exploited free of charge to help them recover back pay and other entitlements. Many had never been paid penalty rates for working weekends, public holidays and overnight, for instance.
A hotline was set up that resulted in hundreds of inquiries from current and former 7-Eleven staff willing to relay their shocking experiences.
In addition, we lobbied the Federal Government to grant amnesty to staff who spoke up about the exploitation they had experienced, arguing that without it, workers were very scared to come forward. Protection from deportation was subsequently granted, provided those who came forward were willing to help with investigations into the exploitation.
The firm assisted many staff who made claims for backpay with the independent panel led by former Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) boss Allan Fels that was set up by 7-Eleven in September 2015. That legal assistance has continued for those seeking to be paid what they are owed since the panel was shut down in May 2016.
We have received in excess of $3 million in unpaid wages and entitlements for our clients while continuing to fearlessly pursue 7-Eleven franchisees to help recover money that is owed to the workers – including many international students – who were taken advantage of.
Class action for workers’ with intellectual disabilities
Australian workers with intellectual disabilities received backpay for unlawfully discriminatory wages, thanks to an agreement our Lawyers reached on behalf of about 10,000 workers in a class action against the Federal Government.
The pro bono class action, which was run in conjunction with the AED Legal Centre, was launched against the Commonwealth of Australia in the Federal Court and alleged that disabled workers working in Australian Disability Enterprises were being unfairly discriminated against. Some workers were earning as little at 99 cents an hour.
Lead plaintiff Tyson Duval-Comrie claimed the use of the Business Services Wage Assessment Tool (BSWAT) to determine pro-rata wages for people working at Australian Disability Enterprises discriminated against people with intellectual disabilities, in contravention of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.
The Full Federal Court decided in a 2012 case that was brought against the Commonwealth by two individual workers with intellectual disabilities that using BSWAT to set the wages of intellectually disabled workers was discriminatory and contravened the Act.
Our class action sought an end to the discrimination, and compensation for those workers who lost wages as a result of the discrimination. An agreement estimated to be worth more than $100 million was subsequently reached between the parties, which was approved by the Federal Court in December 2016.
Affected workers who registered in the class action received an amount directly from the government in a scheme administered by the government.
Sexual Harassment: Investigation upholds sexual harassment complaints against former High Court Judge Dyson Heydon and prompts Court reform
Maurice Blackburn Lawyers has represented three women who worked for, and were sexually harassed by Mr Heydon during his tenure at the High Court.
In March 2019, Maurice Blackburn Lawyers made a complaint about Mr Heydon’s harassment of these women to the High Court. Following this complaint, the High Court commissioned an investigation that resulted in allegations of sexual harassment perpetrated by Mr Heydon being upheld in respect of six complainants.
Josh Bornstein, National Head of Employment Law at Maurice Blackburn, said the investigation had unveiled a pattern of predatory behaviour and sexual harassment over many years by Mr Heydon towards young female associates he employed. It highlighted a gap in both addressing judicial misconduct and protecting their employees from that misconduct.
Since the investigation was finalised, the High Court and a number of Court’s around Australia have taken urgent action to reform policies and procedures relating to sexual harassment.
Maurice Blackburn Lawyers is continuing to represent three complainants in a compensation claim against Mr Heydon and the Commonwealth for the harm caused as a result of Mr Heydon’s harassment.
Reinstatement: worker sacked by BP for sharing downfall meme returned to work with compensation
Maurice Blackburn Lawyers provided pro bono legal representation to Australian Workers’ Union member Scott Tracey in a legal battle to save his job, after BP sacked him for sharing a Downfall meme satirising the company’s attempts to negotiate a new pay deal.
Mr Tracey’s unfair dismissal application was initially rejected by the Fair Work Commission. Maurice Blackburn represented Mr Tracey in his appeal to the Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission. In the appeal, the Full Bench ruled that the dismissal was harsh and that Mr Tracey should be reinstated with compensation. Maurice Blackburn successfully defended Mr Tracey’s reinstatement when it was appealed by BP to the Federal Court. Mr Tracey was ultimately returned to his job and awarded $200,000 in compensation in 2020.
Kamal Farouque, a Principal Lawyer at Maurice Blackburn who represented Mr Tracey said “No one should be sacked for a having a harmless joke with their mates, about workplace issues like industrial bargaining. This was a classic harsh dismissal and we are glad to have fought to have AWU member, Scott Tracey reinstated to his job.”
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