When BP worker Scott Tracey was suspended and then sacked in 2018 for sharing a joke, he had no idea about the battle he was about to embark on.
But, with The Australian Workers’ Union at his side every step of the way, it was one he did not have to endure on his own.
It’s now ended with Mr Tracey being awarded compensation to the tune of more than $200k and he’s now back at work.
Mr Tracey said: “There is no way I could have done this on my own. Going up against the might of a company like BP without help and legal backing would have been impossible. I have to say a huge thanks to the Australian Workers’ Union and my legal team who have stood alongside me through this very lengthy legal case and my fellow AWU members who helped support me financially while I was unemployed. It really does pay to be a member of a Union.”
Mr Tracey’s legal woes began back in September 2018 when he shared a version of the popular Downfall meme in a private Facebook page. The video had the subtitles changed to poke fun at the ongoing EBA negotiations at the BP Kwinana oil refinery in south-west Perth.
Three months later he was sacked by BP and the AWU became involved in his case.
BP claimed he was involved in the creation and distribution of an offensive video, known as a meme, which depicted BP representatives as Nazis and its decision to fire him was initially upheld by the FWC last September but both Mr Tracey and the AWU pressed on and launched an appeal.
In February, the Full Bench of the FWC ruled there was no valid reason to sack Mr Tracey as the video has been used thousands of times over a period of more than a decade. Due to the videos memetic context, it was apparent that it did not liken BP management to Hitler or Nazis and was simply a satirical depiction of contemporary situations. The FWC ruled Mr Tracey must be reinstated with continuity of service and compensation for lost earnings.
It looked like a victory for Mr Tracey and the AWU but BP and its army of lawyers refused to give in and do the right thing.
They informed Mr Tracey he would be reinstated at the Kwinana refinery by the end of that week. But after resigning from a new role that he had managed to secure after being sacked, BP then appealed the matter in the Federal Court leaving Mr Tracey unemployed again.
Finally on August 10th after Mr Tracey and the AWU won the Federal Court appeal, the Full Bench of the FWC awarded him $177,324.93 in lost pay and bonuses, minus tax, in addition to $24,069.99 in pension contributions.
Australian Workers’ Union West Australian secretary Brad Gandy, who represented Mr Tracey, said the union was pleased by the decision but “it doesn’t make up for the completely unnecessary drama and heartache Mr Tracey has been dragged through”.
“We hope this marks the end of a truly unedifying chapter for BP management,” Mr Gandy said. “To dig in and drag an honest worker through nearly two years of stress and uncertainty, all because a few stuffed shirts didn’t get a joke, is poor corporate behaviour.”
“BP should never have sacked him in the first place, let alone embark on this two year battle. But, they have very deep pockets and can endlessly fund baseless cases like this. They do it to try and intimidate the workforce but they underestimated both Mr Tracey and the AWU who had justice on their side.”
The AWU estimates it saved Mr Tracey legal costs in the region of $100-150k had he not been supported by them.
Mr Tracey, who is now back at work, said: “I could never have imagined a simple meme could cause so much confusion and where I would lose my job and face the battle of my life to get it back.
“The last 22 months have been incredibly stressful, and it has taken an enormous toll on my family.
“I always knew I should not have been fired and I was very relieved to have been vindicated by the Fair Work Commission and the Federal Court.
“I couldn’t have got through this without the support of my family, my friends and my workmates who have been there every step of the way.
“I am looking forward to moving on and putting this behind me.”
BP is currently reviewing the the Full Bench decision so the matter may not be over yet. The AWU will keep members informed of the case and we stand united behind Mr Tracey.
The AWU needs your support to help workers like Mr Tracey. Join your union today.