December 2, 2005

That’s the Industrial Relations Commission’s blunt assessment of Commissioner Mullins’s decision to sack Senior Firefighter Joe Natoli back on 20 July this year. And before Mr Mullins complains yet again about the Union “playing the man, not the ball”, the inescapable truth is that when it comes to disciplinary action (and dismissal in particular) the buck stops with one man and one man only: the NSWFB Commissioner.

In a damning judgement, the Department has been ordered to reinstate Comrade Natoli within fourteen days and to backdate his pay to 1 October. IRC Deputy President Sams went on to make a number of important observations about the case and the Department’s disciplinary procedures, including:

“I cannot imagine a more serious denial of procedural fairness in an unfair dismissal case.”

“I accept that he was helping a potential firefighter by showing him the workings of the truck.”

“I reject any suggestion that there was skylarking or clowning around in the truck.”

“I do not think one could find a more blatant example of the “die having been cast” and nothing was going to deter management from its intended course of action.”

“The applicant was cruelly denied a presumption of innocence, not only before a full and proper investigation, but even before he had put his side of the story.”

Despite the Department’s monstrous injustices and procedural atrocities, his trial by a rabid yet hopelessly mis-informed media and the populist calls for blood from the Opposition’s hapless shadow minister, Joe’s job has been saved by a determined and concerted Union defence.

This is the second permanent member’s job to have been saved by the Union this year (see the Union’s “Rough Justice 2” notice back on 5 August). The Commissioner should take note: two sackings in one year, both overturned by an independent Industrial Relations Commission, proves that the Department needs to have a good hard look at itself. For one thing, they could start taking conciliation processes more seriously.

Before listening to the mess room lawyers and critics who have based their views on cowardly anonymous letters to the media, read the full decision of the judge available here.

Craig Harris
State Secretary