Miner wins job back
Oaky Creek Coal forced to re-employ miner sacked after fight with colleague.
Wednesday 04 January 2017
A miner has won back his job, and around $100,000 in back pay after the Fair Work Commission upheld his claim that he had been unfairly dismissed by Oaky Creek Coal (OCC) in 2015.
Former Surface Coordinator at OCC Mr Peter Watts lodged a complaint with the FWC over what he perceived as his unfair dismissal from employment at the mine following a heated exchange with another miner whose role he had recently taken over.
Relations between the two men had been difficult for months according to evidence given to the FWC, but they reached a head in late August 2015.
“In summary, Mr Watts and another employee of OCC [called Mr X], were involved in an ongoing conflict,” the court said.
“That conflict culminated in a number of exchanges between Mr Watts and Mr X on 21 August 2015 during working time and after work in the car park at the mine site.
“Thereafter while travelling home from work, Mr Watts stopped his car in the vicinity of Mr X’s home.
“Mr Watts said that he did this because he believed that Mr X was following close behind him and was concerned that Mr X wished to continue the altercation at Mr Watts’ home.”
Following the events above, Mr X complained about the incident which led to an investigation and a mediation process. Both Mr Watts and Mr X agreed to participate in the mediation, and an agreed solution was achieved.
However a day later, Mr X made a formal complaint about the same incident, which resulted in another higher level investigation.
“A further investigation was conducted by Mr Campbell the maintenance and engineering manager who recommended that both Mr Watts and Mr X be disciplined and that they attend further mediation and training in conflict resolution,” the court heard.
“After considering Mr Campbell’s investigation report, Mr Sauer, Operations Manager, put the findings to Mr Watts and Mr X, and Mr Sauer [then] decided to dismiss Mr Watts for his part in the events of 21 July 2015.
“Mr X was dismissed for lying about those events during the investigation of his complaint.”
Looking at the background to the August 21 conflict, the court heard that Mr Watts had made some attempts to unofficially resolve the issues that were developing between him and Mr X when Mr Watts took over Mr X’s responsibilities.
Mr Watts told the FWC that it became apparent to him soon after commencing with OCC that Mr X had a problem with him, and that others would tell him that: “ Mr X had been running him down and badmouthing [him] around site”.
According to Mr Watts, in July 2015, following a leadership function for supervisors at the mine, Mr Watts claimed he had a discussion with the operations manager Mr Sauer about his issues with Mr X, during which he claimed Mr Saur told him an anecdote.
“Let me tell you about how I handled a similar situation,” he claimed Mr Sauer said.
“When I first took on the job of CHPP Superintendent I witnessed the Maintenance Superintendent abusing some of my employees, I then waited until he was in his office and no-one was around, walked in, gave him a serve and walked out.
“I didn’t have any more problems after that.”
Mr Watts claims Mr Sauer laughed then said words to the effect of “then when I became the manager I made him redundant and if you don’t stop your shit stirring I’ll make you redundant.”
After that exchange, Mr Watts said he became concerned for his job, and although he did not consider that the situation with Mr X was appropriately addressed or that he could control the situation, Mr Watts understood from Mr Sauer’s comments that he could not formally complain about Mr X’s conduct.
In the end the court decided Mr Watts had not been treated fairly
“Having regard to all of these matters, I find that Mr Watts’ dismissal was harsh, unjust and unreasonable.
“It was harsh because of its consequences for Mr Watts and because it was disproportionate to the gravity of the conduct he engaged in on 21 August 2015.
“The dismissal was unjust because Mr Watts was not guilty of significant matters that OCC relied on to conclude that he had engaged in serious misconduct.
“The dismissal was unreasonable because the conclusions about Mr Watts’ conduct were based on inferences that could not reasonably have been drawn from the material before Mr Sauer who decided to dismiss Mr Watts.”