Patrick Stevedores Holdings Pty Ltd has been convicted and fined almost half a million dollars for discrimination, after workers who raised safety concerns at a Victorian port were threatened with the sack.
The company was fined $475,000 in the County Court on Monday after a jury convicted it on six counts of discrimination by threatening to alter the position of an employee, to their detriment, for raising health and safety issues.
The case arose after four employees raised concerns about unsafe forklift load limits at the Port of Hastings in 2009.
The health and safety representative had calculated the weight of steel coils to be loaded on a forklift exceeded safe limits, Judge Gregory Lyon said.
But when that was communicated to then port operations manager Michael Dorrian, he demanded to know who the representative was.
Mr Dorrian then told a team leader: "I'm going to get that c*** and he didn't care if he had to sack one, five, 10 or 20 workers and that heads were going to roll".
Mr Dorrian also threatened to sack another worker if he complained: "If John boy whinges to me one more time, tomorrow he can pack his bags and f*** off too".
He also referred to other workers as "dribbling idiots", the judge said.
When the four employees, including the health and safety representative, raised concerns directly with Mr Dorrian about the unsafe loads, each was threatened with termination.
The workers said WorkSafe should be brought in to decide the matter, but Mr Dorrian told the men: "You don't want to go down that track. You'll be on a list - a list you don't want to be on. One by one we'll put you on there if you don't do as you're told".
Judge Lyon said the concerns raised by employees were legitimate and significant.
He said the employer appreciated the concern was genuine, given Mr Dorrian had proposed an alternative loading method when first alerted.
"Mr Dorrian knew that a worker had been killed in an accident with a coil in 2007," he said.
"The message to be imparted here is clear and simple - employers who threaten workers with termination for raising health and safety issues will face severe punishment.
"Given the severe nature of the threats made, that is the termination of employment, and the facts the threats were made in the knowledge that a significant bona-fide safety issue had been raised, the culpability of the employer is high."
The judge took into account the company had since put in policies and training to deal with bullying and discrimination.
Australian Associated Press