THE Australian Education Union must repay Bendigo TAFE hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs, a high court has ruled.
In a costs decision on Tuesday, High Court judge Dyson Heydon ruled that the AEU must foot Bendigo TAFE’s costs for a series of court challenges it took against the Bendigo institute over the dismissal of an employee.
The decision followed a dispute in which senior teacher and AEU delegate Gregory Barclay was suspended by management in 2010 after he sent an email to union members at Bendigo TAFE alleging managers may pressure staff to produce “false and fraudulent documents” for an upcoming audit.
The High Court last month ruled unanimously that Bendigo TAFE had not breached Labor’s Fair Work Act when it suspended Mr Barclay, saying he had not been singled out for being a union delegate.
In doing so, the court allayed fears a lower court ruling had bestowed “protected species” status on union representatives under Labor’s industrial scheme, which prohibits an employer from retaliating against employee union officials who take part in industrial activity.
The High Court used this week’s ruling to aggressively question the intervention of the Federal Government in the case.
In a statement released on the judgement, Justice Heydon said the intervention of the Workplace Relations Minister had increased the costs awarded against the union by around 15 per cent.
He wrote that the minister “was not that of an intervener, but that of a partisan ... Would-be interveners who wish to behave like parties (to the action) should not intervene”.
Current Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten was not in that role at the time.
A spokesman for Mr Shorten earlier this week defended the Government’s intervention, saying the decision had been made in the public interest.
Mr Barclay was reprimanded after alleging serious misconduct by unnamed persons in January 2010.
Failing to report the allegations to management, former Bendigo TAFE chief executive Louise Harvey sent a letter asking him to show cause why he should not be disciplined and he was suspended on full pay pending a disciplinary investigation.