Big Brother can't sack you for union email just yet

Ansett is likely to be fined an undisclosed sum for sacking an employee who sent a union-related message using the company's email system.

According to Martin Foley, president of the Victorian branch of the Australian Services Union (ASU), the airline company dismissed union delegate Maria Gencarelli for forwarding an angrily worded email around her department. The subject of the email was enterprise bargaining, he said.

Foley said the Federal Court in Melbourne had rejected Ansett's claims this morning that Gencarelli breached company email policy, which prohibits staff from communicating any matters unrelated to work within or out of the company via email.

"She was doing her job as a union delegate," Foley said.

In fact, the judge found that "Ansett acted illegally under the provisions of the workplace relations act dealing with freedom of association", he said. He added, however, that Ansett did not break any laws from inspecting employee email because the company legally owned all text on its email network.

Foley said most companies had clearly defined email policies in place. Typically, company policy allowed "a certain amount of chitter-chatter" via email, although union activity qualified as part of a company's core business.

"The implications of this are that if you've got a union on site and a union delegate, you can use email for the purposes of distributing union material."

An Ansett spokesperson said the airline company accepted the court's decision.

The ASU will submit a legally justified suggestion to the Federal Court regarding a suitable fine for Ansett. Foley said the union had not yet finalised the amount.

Discussions on whether or not Gencarelli will return to work at Ansett have not yet been finalised.

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