On 13 November 2020, the Federal Court handed down its decision on penalties in the rest breaks coercion case.

“RAFFWU launched the prosecution of the major McDonald’s franchisee, Tantex Holdings, one year ago today and we are delighted with the outcome in the Federal Court.”

“Of course, we should never have had to defend the most basic workplace rights of our members. To have their paid breaks, to be able to drink water, and to be able to go to the toilet.”

“The outrageous coercion of children by this employer – which continues to employ hundreds of children and young workers – was absolutely unlawful and it must now pay the penalties imposed on it.”

“However, the only worker it has compensated is our member and co-applicant, Chiara Staines. Thousands of other workers have not been compensated at all.”

“Chiara, rightfully, will be paid over $11,800 in penalties and compensation for what this employer did. Our focus is now upon the 250 000 other workers stripped of their breaks by McDonald’s outlets.”

“RAFFWU is proud of the role it plays defending the rights of members and as the Court found, our service to the national interest in prosecuting rogue employers. Other employers who exploit retail and fast food workers are on notice.”

“We are particularly thankful to our legal team, led by Siobhan Kelly of Counsel.”

The decision is below and an extract:

“Ms Staines and the Union have each well-served the public interest. That is not an abstract concept. All Australians have an interest in the conduct of industrial relations, including the employment of workers, according to law. Parliament has provided for civil penalties to be imposed for contraventions of the FWA. Under our system of justice, part of Australia’s constitutional inheritance from the United Kingdom, the courts are adversarial, not inquisitorial. That means that the power to impose civil penalties where contraventions are proven only falls for its exercise when a proceeding is instituted. Public resources allocated to police the FWA are limited. The financial ability of an individual worker to police a perceived contravention of the FWA is also in most cases limited. Workers, collectively, via a trade union, are thereby better equipped to do this. The policing by trade unions of compliance with industrial laws is a longstanding, legitimate role of trade unions. This does not just serve the interests of the particular workers concerned, or the trade union. It serves the national interest. As a study of the judgments of this Court discloses, there are occasions, for cause, when the Court has been adversely critical of the conduct of particular trade unions. It is just as important and necessary that the service of a trade union of a national interest be noted. For that reason, I conclude these reasons for judgment by recognising the service to the national interest by the Union in the circumstances of the present case.

201113 Retail and Fast Food Workers Union Incorporated v Tantex Holdings Pty Ltd (No 2) [2020] 1644