Maurice Blackburn Lawyers will back 12 Toyota employees sacked in mass jobs cuts at the car company’s Melbourne plant who claim they were subjected to discrimination.
The firm has filed Federal Court action this week on behalf of sacked Toyota workers, to reinstate a number of those it claims were subjected to targeted and unlawful discrimination in the recent job cuts at the company's Altona plant.
The firm is seeking an urgent hearing as early as today.
Head of industrial law at the firm, Josh Bornstein, lodged proceedings on behalf of the workers who the firm says were targeted because they held roles as health and safety representatives or because they were union shop stewards.
"There is a stench in the way Toyota has gone about these sackings and there is a stench in the way redundancy criteria was misused to target particular employees for dismissal," Bornstein said.
"When we have workers who have given nearly two decades of their life to the company being told by their manager on the day of the sackings 'I told you, you shouldn't have been a union rep', it is clearly wrong and in breach of Fair Work Australia laws.
"These health and safety representatives and shop stewards are the people who stand up for others in the workplace on difficult issues - they've been responsible for identifying and protecting people from hazards like asbestos, and saving people from dangerous work requests - and they've been illegally persecuted for that.
"In addition, Toyota has in recent days threatened legal action against the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union to try and stop it taking Federal Court proceedings on behalf of these sacked employees, to avoid scrutiny of the redundancy process it used in this case,” the lawyer said.
"Whether it's 'The Toyota Way' or any other way, the formula should be simple - treat people with respect and dignity - and Toyota has failed miserably at that so we are taking an immediate stand for these sacked workers who deserve better."
David Smith from the AMWU, which represents the Toyota workers, said the treatment of unionised workers and health and safety representatives has been "disgusting".
"Toyota has now become the vehicle to relay a strong message that people have important rights at work, that unions can represent those rights and that people should not be unfairly targeted for standing up for their rights," Smith said.
"We also have serious concerns about future safety standards at the plant as there is a very real danger that people won't put their hand up for workplace health and safety roles for fear of persecution if they do their job well, and that could lead to tragedy."