A number of workers were stood down without pay for wearing union clothing during a bargaining period. Picture: Facebook/Electrical Trades Union, ETU NSW Branch
A number of workers were stood down without pay for wearing union clothing during a bargaining period. Picture: Facebook/Electrical Trades Union, ETU NSW Branch

Item of clothing that got Aussies sacked

A group of Australian workers who were penalised over their choice of T-shirts have had the last laugh after their bosses "unlawfully" threatened to withhold their pay.

On Wednesday, a number of Electrical Trades Union (ETU) members employed by electrical contractor Fredon Industries were sent home without pay after they turned up to work wearing clothing bearing union logos.

The employees, who are currently working on the NorthConnex project in Sydney, were stood down for wearing and displaying union-related material, and because they had taken two meal breaks during their shift.

Their actions took place during bargaining for the Sydney Construction Union Enterprise Agreement negotiations.

However, Fredon's order was a breach of the Fair Work Act - a fact pointed out to the company by the union - and in the end, it agreed to backflip and pay all staff in full for the day.

In correspondence between the union and Fredon viewed by news.com.au, the ETU argued that members who wore union-related clothing and material were "not engaging in industrial action" and were "certainly not engaging in a partial work ban".

Therefore, it claimed the business had no right to "refuse to accept the performance of work and refuse to remunerate the employees", and that doing so was "unlawful conduct".

The union also threatened to launch legal proceedings in the Federal Court if necessary. But in the end, the company did back down - fast.

However, ETU national legal counsel Alana Heffernan slammed Fredon's tough stance.

"Fredon knew it was wrong to have sent workers home without pay because they were exercising their right to wear union-related clothing," she said.

"We have been in EBA negotiations with Fredon and others for some time and the ETU and its members did everything right in notifying Fredon about plans to wear union-affiliated clothing.

"The ETU had to remind Fredon of this right and point to similar matters brought before the courts which show our members were in the right.

"It's right Fredon agreed to pay these workers the full day's pay for improperly standing them down, but the ETU asserts they should not have overstepped in the first place."

Meanwhile, ETU national secretary Allen Hicks said all Australian workers had the right to wear clothing bearing union logos.

He said this case proved "intimidation does not work" and that the workers had triumphed in the face of "improper threats" of lost income.

"This is a big win for our members who were legally showing their union pride only to be improperly sent home without pay," he said.

"We've endured every dirty trick in the book during these negotiations, including companies forming a cartel to stand as one against our members and planting spies in our closed-door meetings.

"I'm proud of our members and I'm proud of our union because we keep fighting and winning against every dirty trick these companies pull."

Shine Lawyers' employment law expert Will Barsby welcomed the result, and told news.com.au it sent a powerful message to other companies.

"At law, workers are provided with a number of workplace rights and protections including the right to engage in industrial action and be associated with a union," he said.

"There are also workplace protections around political views, sexuality, gender and religious beliefs.

"Australian unions have fought hard for the rights of workers and this recent decision is an important win and shows that employers cannot take unlawful action, including sending them home from work, simply for being associated with a union."

The $2.9 billion NorthConnex project is one of Australia's biggest infrastructure ventures.

It is a nine kilometre tunnel that will link the M1 Pacific Motorway at Wahroonga to the Hills M2 Motorway at West Pennant Hills in the NSW capital's north.

Once completed, it is expected to remove around 5000 trucks from busy Pennant Hills Road.

Continue the conversation @carey_alexis | alexis.carey@news.com.au

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