A senior employee who was sacked after standing as a candidate for the One Nation party is suing her employer, a wind turbine manufacturer, alleging it took adverse action against her because of her political views.
Gaye Cameron, who ran in the Sydney electorate of Cook in the last Federal Election, received a show cause letter from the Chinese-owned company Goldwind on the day of the election.
The letter stated:
Goldwind does not seek to interfere in its employees’ right to be involved in the political process nor express political views in a public forum. However, it does have the right to be concerned when the political views expressed have a potential to damage its reputation if the views are associated with it or are in conflict with its business or its core values.
You are standing in a seat of Cook as the candidate for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party. Your campaign material and the policy platform of One Nation contain matters which go to the heart of Goldwind’s business namely:
- A rejection of support for taxpayer subsidies for renewable sources of energy
- Doubting the ability of renewable energies to provide base load power
- Building new low-emission coal-fired power stations
- A “problem with foreign-owned multinational companies” and proposal to implement a separate tax system for foreign-owned companies which would see tax increased
- Demonstrated antagonism towards Chinese interests and influence in Australia
Further, the history and policy of One Nation is that it has been associated with both a lack of tolerance for multicultural and a lack of adherence to values which reject discrimination in all its forms. This history is contrary to the core values of Goldwind and the principles contained in its Code of Conduct. We do not say that you have expressed these same intolerances however your association with a political party does present a risk that should your employer become public, would cause reputational damage to Goldwind.
Ms Cameron did not respond to the show cause letter, but instead applied to the Federal Circuit Court for an urgent injunction to restrain the employer from dismissing her, which it refused to grant.
The employer then dismissed Ms Cameron for breaching her employment contract and the company’s code of conduct.
In the week up to the election, Ms Cameron did not show up for work. She had applied for 5 days of unpaid leave, but the employer only granted leave for 3 days.
Ms Cameron took the leave anyway, telling the employer that “sitting in the office is old school” and a “distraction” and that she would have her laptop to check and respond to “anything urgent”.
The employer’s termination letter dealt with two matters, firstly Ms Cameron’s refusal to attend the office “despite the clear directions” from her manager, and secondly, campaign material she published with her name and address which contained the following statements:
- Australia should withdraw from the Paris Agreement signed in 2016;
- We do not support taxpayer subsidies for renewable sources of energy; and
- Concerns with foreign ownership.
In the termination letter, the employer wrote:
Goldwind’s business is obviously a foreign-owned renewable energy business in alignment with the Paris Agreement’s objective of reducing emissions and a significant beneficiary of (and support and advocate for) taxpayer subsidies for renewable sources of energy. The effect of each of the above statements is either adverse to the interests of the company or had the potential to be so. As a result, you were in a position where your personal interests were or may have been in conflict with Goldwind’s interests. The fact that these statements were publicly disseminated by a person who was at the time employed by the business as a Senior HSEQ Advisor with responsibilities relating to environmental matters has the effect of the above statements being adverse to the interests of our business and in conflict with your duties or had the potential to be so and could reasonably be seen as conflicting with the company’s interests.
I am satisfied that your conduct amounts to a breach of the Code namely: “Each Goldwind workers shall avoid situations in which their financial or other personal interest or dealing are, or may be, in conflict with the interests of Goldwind International. Accordingly, Goldwind International expects its workers to act in Goldwind’s interests at all times…. Workers shall not engage in any other activity (cultural, political, recreational and social) which could reasonably conflict with company’s interests and interfere with the performance of their duties.”
I also consider that the publication of these statements is in breach of clause 5.1(e) and (f) of your Contract.
In my consideration and concern as to the effect of the statements outlined above, your association with any political party or your political opinions are not relevant. I have not has any regard to these matters. Goldwind does not interfere with the rights of its employees to be involved in the political process, be affiliated with any political party or hold political opinions.
Ms Cameron’s application for an interlocutory injunction was dismissed, as Federal Circuit Court Judge Nicholas Manousaridis found that the 1 month’s salary plus accrued annual leave the employer paid her in lieu of notice meant that she would “not suffer any, or any significant financial loss” before the hearing continues in the next few weeks.
Judge Manousaridis said there was evidence Goldwind had taken unlawful adverse action against Ms Cameron and that she had a “reasonably arguable case”.
However, counsel for the employer argued that there is a distinction between taking adverse action because of Ms Cameron’s exercise of a right and the “consequences of the exercise of that right”.