NICTA lab staff claim sackings breached the law

A third of staff who lost their jobs at the national ICT research organisation’s Parkville laboratory will go to the industrial umpire, claiming their sackings breached the law.

Colin Rose, founder and joint chief executive of industrial relations negotiating firm Rose and Barton, will represent 25 of the 76 staff who were made redundant or failed to have their contracts renewed at a Fair Work Australia hearing on March 12.

Among them are staff on 457 visas, fixed contracts and those who held ongoing positions at the national information communications technology research group known as NICTA.

Mr Rose said staff at the specialist laboratory believed they had been given insufficient time to make an informed decision before signing redundancy papers and that they had not been given the opportunity to be redeployed within the organisation. He said staff had not ruled out also lodging unfair dismissal claims.

”Human resources did one of the most appalling jobs I have ever seen in an organisation of some stature,” Mr Rose said.

He said several staff were on stress leave because of the way the redundancy process was handled.

Mr Rose said staff wanted management to start the redundancy process again, allowing for more consultation with affected staff, and more redundancy provisions than the minimum required by law given the researchers held such specific expertise and finding another job could take some time.

Staff have also raised concerns over some clauses in the deed of release, including one which places an obligation on the workers to provide an indemnity to NICTA for tax liability. This could mean that if NICTA makes an error in the amount of tax deducted from an employee’s wage, it is up to the employee to correct the error with the tax office. Employment law principal at Maurice Blackburn, Kamal Farouque, said this was excessive and unnecessary.

NICTA chief operating officer Phil Robertson said the organisation understood it was an upsetting time for staff and was making efforts to redeploy staff where possible. ”But we are faced with the reality of dealing with a very difficult situation,” he said.

As reported by Fairfax Media on Wednesday, Professor Graeme Clark, the inventor of the bionic ear, criticised the sackings. He said the move could adversely affect Australia’s standing as a biomedical research powerhouse and the development of the next generation of researchers.

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