United Workers Union (UWU) has commenced action against Treasury Wine Estates in the Australian Human Rights Commission on behalf of four winery workers who were sacked from their jobs.
Ben Del Fabbro (46), Daniel Pfeiffer-Jarred (27), Jackson Harbus (31), and a fourth worker who wishes to remain anonymous were all forced to undertake medical examinations by TWE that allegedly found them to be medically unfit for the jobs they were already doing. They were then sacked before Christmas.
- All four had previous winery experience and passed medical examinations with labour hire company Acclaimed Workforce before commencing as Cellar Hands at the Treasury Wine Estates Barossa Winery. None had any performance issues, and worked competently at the winery for between 12 months and three years. Fitness had never been a problem before: Ben is a long distance runner and cyclist who runs recreational half marathons.
- When permanent positions opened up last year, Ben and Jackson applied for direct employment and were required to do an additional medical examination with a new examiner chosen by TWE. After the examinations, TWE not only declined their applications for permanent work but terminated their contracts, allegedly finding them to be medically unfit for the jobs they were already performing. TWE then required other casual workers to undertake medicals with the same examiner, resulting in workers like Daniel also being sacked.
- Ben, Jackson and Daniel all went on to pass medicals with other companies and find employment at other wineries, some in the exact same role, but their being sacked without warning or reason before Christmas caused great hardship for these workers and their families. They want to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.
Quotes attributable to Tim Kennedy, National Secretary, United Workers Union:
“It’s an outrage that a colossal, incredibly profitable multinational is effectively firing regional winery workers for seeking permanent jobs.
“Treasury Wines is shamelessly exploiting their own company-mandated medical process as a pretext to deny permanent positions to workers who have effectively been doing the same job for years.
“As one of the largest regional employers in South Australia, Treasury Wines needs to be held to account. United Workers Union members are bravely exposing the appalling conduct of this corporate giant.
“People in Australia are becoming increasingly aware of the devious tactics these companies deploy to deny workers secure employment.
“It’s high time we revamped our laws to prevent corporations from unjustly dismissing workers.
“A system where workers are sacked for applying for permanent work is broken. It’s time to enhance protections for casuals and labour hire contract workers and provide them with credible pathways to secure employment.”
Quotes attributable to winery worker Ben Del Fabbro:
“I was called in and told I was not ‘medically fit’ to get the job or even continue working at the site. I was in complete shock.
“It was a very difficult experience not only because I lost my income, but because I exercise a lot so it really hit my self-esteem and made me doubt myself. I do half-marathons; ultra-trail running events and I am preparing for a marathon at the moment. I never had any issue doing the work while I was there, no injuries or anything.
“My wife had been made redundant and she was caring for a family member with mental health issues at the time, so it was really hard.
“I passed the medical from the labour hire company, but it took me 2-3 months to find another position.”
Quotes attributable to winery worker Daniel Pfeiffer-Jarred:
“I thought the medical went fine, but the stretching was pretty aggressive and I felt the examiner was testing my joints to the limit which is pretty unusual.
“We didn’t get to choose our medical professional, even when the appointment times didn’t suit: this was the examiner they forced us to use.
“Then we had to wait another two or three weeks for the results, and during that time, anxiety built up.
“I spoke to them over the phone and they just told me I had failed and that my contract was terminated. They didn’t speak to me in person or give me any warning.
“It was devastating. I would have stayed there indefinitely. I was getting trained on new tasks and doing a lot of good work there. But being told I was unfit for the job, when I was more than capable, was gut-wrenching.
“I went in to do another medical with the labour hire company, which was more physically demanding, but I passed it with flying colours.
“I had to find new work because my wage had just been cut to zero. Losing my job put a lot of strain and stress on my partner and me only two weeks before Christmas.”
Quotes attributable to winery worker Jackson Harbus:
“I had completed a medical prior to starting in March 2021, and another when I applied for a permanent position in September of the same year. I never had any issue arise from the first medical.
“At around 6:30am on Thursday September 29th 2022, a half hour before my night shift was over for the day, I was summoned to a senior manager’s office. Thinking I was finally going to receive a contract for the full time position as it had been a while since the others who had applied got their rejections, I quickly headed there.“Upon arrival, I was told I had failed the medical for the full time position, and that I was unsuccessful in getting said position.
“They said that because I had failed, I could no longer continue working there at all as I was now a liability for the company being on site.
“I went from the high of expecting a job offer for a career doing what I loved and planned to do decades to having the rug pulled from under me with an immediate dismissal for a reason I was not provided. I called my girlfriend and told her and I just broke down. We were planning on so much stuff working around this.
“I had this expectation I would get the job because I had many permanent employees wanting me to continue working there full time. I even had a well-respected relief area leader tell me he wanted to be a reference on my resume.
“I haven’t gone a single day since it’s happened where I don’t run that morning’s events through my head.
“I couldn’t stop thinking I was not fit for a job I had been doing for close to 8 years, six of which were at another winery. This was somewhat alleviated by passing the labour hire medical afterwards, but I still haven’t shaken that feeling of immediate and frankly unexpected loss of what I expected to be a long term career.”
Additional financial information about Treasury Wine Estates:
- Treasury Wines is a $2.5 billion company and increased their net profits by 5.3% in 2022 to $263.2 million.
- CEO Tim Ford’s own total remuneration grew by over 16% in 2022 to $3.7 million.
- Shareholders, too, have enjoyed the fruits of Treasury’s growth, with a 27% increase in the amount of total dividends paid out in FY22 compared to the previous year. $202.1 million was paid out to shareholders.
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