How they saved Dave: Worker sacked over undies protest wins back his job

CFMEU members Lee Webb (left) and Dave McLachlan on April 19 - the day Mr McLachlan was sacked. Photo: Robert Peet
CFMEU members Lee Webb (left) and Dave McLachlan on April 19 - the day Mr McLachlan was sacked. Photo: Robert Peet

Underground coal miner Dave McLachlan has been "saved" after the Fair Work Commission found he was unfairly sacked for joining workers who stripped down to their underpants in protest against cuts to their laundry services.

The Fair Work Commission on Friday reinstated the sacked miner after finding his dismissal from Illawarra Coal Holding's South 32 mine in April was "harsh, unjust and unreasonable".

The decision follows a national "Save Dave" campaign led by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union in support of the 50-year-old miner at the centre of the so called "undies protest".

Workers at the Appin Colliery staged a 10-minute protest after their employer refused to provide replacement work clothes and a laundry service at the South32 Appin Colliery. The laundry service and clothes which had been a condition of their enterprise agreement for many years.

Mr McLachlan, who had worked at the mine for 17 years, arranged the "undies protest" in March during which workers stripped down to their underpants.

Appin miners at the now-controversial undie protest in early March. Inset: Dave McLachlan. Photo: Illawarra Mercury

Appin miners at the now-controversial undie protest in early March. Inset: Dave McLachlan. Photo: Illawarra Mercury

As a result, Mr McLachlan was suspended from work on full pay pending a full investigation into the undies incident and later dismissed on the basis that his conduct was unlawful unprotected industrial action and the publicity it generated had allegedly damaged his employer's reputation.

Fair Work Commissioner Ian Cambridge held that the protest action was not unprotected industrial action "and consequently the cornerstone of the reason for the applicant's dismissal has been established to be erroneous".

Even if the action could have been construed that way, Mr Cambridge said it was not a valid reason for dismissal.

"There was no valid reason for the dismissal of the applicant," he said, adding that it was "harsh, unjust and unreasonable".

Mr Cambridge ordered that Mr McLachlan be reinstated and repaid for lost pay.

CFMEU national president Tony Maher said the decision was a victory for workers who stood up for their rights.

"Workers must be entitled to take action when employers breach their legal obligations to them, without fear of vicious, unwarranted and over the top reactions by their bosses," he said.

"A harmless, 10-minute protest over what is rightfully owed should not result in the sacking of any worker.

"Common sense and fairness has prevailed today, but it took a six-month legal battle and public campaign to overturn Dave's unfair dismissal."

This story How they saved Dave: Worker sacked over undies protest wins back his job first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.