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Court compares boss to Simpsons villain
By Adam Morton May 4, 2004
A magistrate yesterday compared the boss of a farm machinery company to a villain in the TV show The Simpsons for sacking an employee after he raised health and safety concerns.
Magistrate Raffaele Barberio cited the cartoon show’s character, ruthless capitalist Montgomery Burns, as he convicted Ag-Ready, a Melbourne-based importer. He ordered the company to pay $10,000 damages and a $10,000 fine for its sacking of health and safety officer Dale Maggs in February 2002.
The Melbourne Magistrates Court was told that Mr Maggs, who was also a forklift driver, faxed WorkSafe asking for help over workers’ concerns about a solvent used to remove a protective wax from machinery.
Ag-Ready managing director Garrett Gunn sacked Mr Maggs on the spot after the fax was discovered, telling him he was “lower than whale shit”.
“You can f— off out of this place and we’ll see you in court,” Mr Gunn said.
Ag-Ready pleaded guilty to a charge laid under section 54 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which makes it illegal to dismiss an employee solely on the grounds that they raised a health and safety issue. Mr Barberio said Mr Maggs had been responsible and prudent, while Mr Gunn’s behaviour had been derogatory, intimidating and demeaning.
He said Mr Gunn – who set up the company in 1996 but no longer works there – had shown no respect for his employee, acting like a “relic of the 19th century”.
“It reminds me of the type of behaviour of the cartoon character (Montgomery) Burns,” Mr Barberio said.
The conviction, which came with an order to pay $9348 in costs and follows a separate $10,900 unfair dismissal claim, is the second under section 54 and the first in which a company has pleaded guilty.
In July last year, Boylan’s Distribution was convicted and fined $30,000 for sacking a casual employee who refused to drive a truck after he was told the brakes needed work.
Ag-Ready released a brief statement saying it regretted the incident and had introduced systems to prevent a recurrence.
WorkSafe executive director John Merritt said the penalty showed that protecting workers could save a company money.
“Cases like this are bad for the employee and the employer,” he said.
“It is extremely stressful for the employee and for the employer. It takes their focus off running the rest of the business.”