Application for a protected action ballot order

Australian Maritime Officers’ Union, v Newcastle Port Corporation [2009] FWA 829

Vice President Watson applied the test in at paragraphs 31 & 32 of Total Marine Services Pty Ltd v Maritime Union of Australia [2009] FWAFB 368 as to whether there had been a genuine attempt to reach agreement:

“[31] In our view the concept of genuinely trying to reach an agreement involves a finding of fact applied by reference to the circumstances of the particular negotiations. It is not useful to formulate any alternative test or criteria for applying the statutory test because it is the words of s 443 which must be applied. In the course of examining all of the circumstances it may be relevant to consider related matters but ultimately the test in s 443 must be applied.

[32] We agree that it is not appropriate or possible to establish rigid rules for the required point of negotiations that must be reached. All the relevant circumstances must be assessed to establish whether the applicant has met the test or not. This will frequently involve considering the extent of progress in negotiations and the steps taken in order to try and reach an agreement. At the very least one would normally expect the applicant to be able to demonstrate that it has clearly articulated the major items it is seeking for inclusion in the agreement, and to have provided a considered response to any demands made by the other side. Premature applications, where sufficient steps have not been taken to satisfy the test that the applicant has genuinely tried to reach an agreement, cannot be granted.”


The President also considered the questions in the ballot were sufficient clear to satisfy the requirement and relied on similar but not identical provision in the Workplace Relations Act 1996. In relation to those provisions a Full Bench of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission in Country Fire Authority v United Firefighters’ Union of Australia (2006) 158 IR 120 at [20] held:


“As noted above, the requirement in s.452(1)(a) is that the application for a protected action ballot must include the question or questions to be put to the relevant employees in the ballot, including the nature of the proposed industrial action. If industrial action is approved by a secret ballot, and all other pre-requisites for protected action are present, a written notice to the employer of intended industrial action is required to state the nature of the intended action and the day when it will begin (see s.441(6)). It was submitted by Mr. Parry SC, who appeared with Mr O’Grady for the CFA, that the use of the same words in s.441(6) and s.452(1) requires a similar approach – albeit that the notices are directed on the one hand to an employer, and on the other, to employees. As a matter of construction we believe this is correct. Further, while the intention of the legislature can only be gleaned from the provisions of the legislation in this case, it appears logical that when employees are asked whether to authorise industrial action in a protected action ballot, the nature of the proposed industrial action is expressed clear enough to enable them to make an informed choice.”

Accordingly, an order for the protected ballot was made.

Brisbane Barrister – David Cormack

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