E-mail and workers' rights

April 5, 2000

E-mail and workers' rights


MELBOURNE — Maria Gencarelli, a superannuation administrative manager with Ansett, was sacked on December 8 for distributing an Australian Services Union (ASU) newsletter using the company's e-mail system. She is seeking compensation in the Federal Court.

Gencarelli, who had worked for Ansett for 11 years, was a union delegate at the time. The e-mail she distributed was an update on enterprise bargaining agreement talks between the union and management. The union is arguing that the sacking violates the freedom of employees to perform union duties allowed for under the Workplace Relations Act.

Herman Borenstein, counsel for Gencarelli, told the court it appeared there was a prima facie case that Ansett had breached the freedom of association provisions of the act. But counsel for Ansett, Damien Murphy, said Gencarelli was sacked not because she was a union representative, but because she had breached the company's e-mail policy and was using a company tool for business that "did not advance the business interests of the company". The judge has reserved his decision.

Martin Foley, the union's private sector branch president, told Green Left Weekly that this is the first court case in which e-mail use is linked to union rights and will set an important precedent. The ASU is seeking to include the right to e-mail use in enterprise agreements.

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