Pelican Feeder Wins Job Back

A professional pelican feeder has won his job back after the Fair Work Commission (FWC) found his dismissal was unfair.

The facts

The pelican feeder, Mr Matthews, was employed on a casual basis by the San Remo Fisherman’s Co Operative located in San Remo, Victoria.  He had worked for the Co Operative since 2001. He worked one day per week, on Tuesdays, between the hours of 12 noon and 1.00 pm.  He was being paid $29.00 per hour at the time of his dismissal in September 2018.

Mr Matthews was also a member of a voluntary group called the Pelican Research Group which supports the welfare of the local Australian Pelicans who frequent the region.  A number of other pelican feeders employed by the Co Operative were also members of the Pelican Research Group.  The Pelican Research Group previously sold badges at the feeding sessions, with the revenue from the sales going to the Group to further its work. The sale of badges had ceased at the direction of the Co Operative.

On 5 September 2018, Mr Matthews was dismissed by the Co Operative following an argument the previous day with Mr Mannix, the General Manager. 

At the centre of the dispute between the two men was an issue about revenue raised by the Pelican Research Group from the sale of badges.  Mr Mannix had repeatedly asked Mr Matthews to disclose the amount of money raised from the badges and Mr Matthews had declined.  The issues came to a head on 4 September when Mr Mannix asked to meet with Mr Matthews at the end of his shift.  They discussed the direction to the pelican feeders to stop selling badges and Mr Mannix asked again for the details of the revenue earned from the sales.  Mr Mannix spoke about a different uniform for pelican feeders and a handbook being prepared to guide the work of the feeders.  The discussion turned sour when Mr Matthews said that a visitor had recently asked if he could buy a badge and asked Mr Mannix if the person was a “stooge”.  Mr Mannix was upset by the accusation and the discussion descended into swearing. 

Mr Matthews’ employment was terminated by letter the following day, with Mr Mannix saying that despite continued requests for change, Mr Matthews’ conduct “remains unacceptable and your attitude yesterday was more confrontational than ever”.

What the FWC found

In what must surely be a first, Commissioner Gregory of the FWC quoted the American Poet and humourist, Dixon Lanier Merritt in his Decision:

“A wonderful bird is the pelican,

His beak can hold more than his belican,

He can take in his beak,

Enough food for a week,

But I’m damned if I know how the helican!”

Turning to the question of whether the Co Operative had a valid reason for Mr Matthews’ dismissal, the Commissioner said he was not satisfied that Mr Matthews’ conduct in refusing to reveal the revenue earned from the badge sales amounted to a valid reason. The Commissioner also found that Mr Matthews’ conduct on 4 September was not sufficient to justify his dismissal, saying his use of the f-word was used to emphasise his frustration, rather than being directed at Mr Mannix.  The Commissioner also said it appeared Mr Mannix gave ‘as good as he got’ during the discussion with Mr Matthews.

Commissioner Gregory found Mr Matthews was unfairly dismissed and ordered his reinstatement as pelican feeder.

Matthews v San Remo Fisherman’s Co Operative [2019] FWC 4877

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