Former Australia Post chief executive Ahmed Fahour has admitted he ousted an executive from his job because he had attracted the ire of a powerful union leader.
Mr Fahour told the Federal Court it was not feasible to keep Australia Post’s national head of workers’ compensation, Michael Newton, in the job when Communications Workers Union NSW secretary Jim Metcher, “one of Australia Post’s most significant external stakeholders”, said he could no longer work with him and threatened public protests.
The ex-CEO made the startling admissions in response to a lawsuit from Mr Newton, who has accused Australia Post and Mr Fahour of conspiring with Mr Metcher to remove him because Mr Metcher threatened to organise industrially against the company if it did not.
In documents filed in his defence, Mr Fahour denied his decision to remove Mr Newton was unlawful adverse action and rejected that Mr Metcher requested or required him to do so.
But he admitted Mr Metcher spoke to him by phone on February 5, 2016 – the same day Mr Newton was removed – to express his anger about the senior manager.
The controversial union secretary, who was forced to resign last year following allegations of domestic violence and bullying, had discovered Mr Newton was developing an initiative called ‘Project Dove’ that aimed to rehabilitate injured employees faster.
Mr Fahour said Mr Metcher, who was strongly opposed to the initiative, threatened to leak Project Dove documents to the media and arrange protest rallies against it.
During the phone call, Mr Metcher also said he could not work with Mr Newton and claimed he had “a personal zealotry to hurt injured workers”.
Hours later, Australia Post shut down Project Dove and Mr Fahour decided to “temporarily” remove Mr Newton from his workers’ compensation position.
Fahour concerned over Metcher ‘threats to go public’
Mr Fahour claimed he removed Mr Newton because he was “concerned Mr Metcher would publicly vilify and criticise [Mr Newton] for his role in Project Dove” because of the union leader’s threats to “go public”.
He said he was concerned about Mr Newton’s health, safety and wellbeing if he continued to be exposed to Mr Metcher given the union leader’s “anger and volatility” towards him.
Further, Mr Fahour “did not think it was feasible” for Mr Newton to run workers’ compensation when Mr Metcher believed the manager was “the cause of problems” within the unit and when Australia Post was about to start a review of the unit based on Mr Metcher’s claims.
Mr Newton would never return to his workers’ compensation position and was sacked in August 2016 after failing to take up alternative roles.
AP execs ordered to produce emails
Head of enterprise safety Emma Blee later filed an internal safety complaint accusing Australia Post of allowing Mr Metcher to endanger the welfare of head office managers and putting his interests ahead of staff.
The Australian Financial Review reported last year that several Australia Post workers’ compensation managers had claimed Mr Metcher had bullied and harassed them, with one manager later put on suicide watch as a result of the alleged abuse.
The Federal Court is expected to hear the case in December 2018 and on Monday ordered Mr Fahour to produce any file notes or emails regarding the phone call with Mr Metcher and for other top Australia Post executives to produce any relevant documents.
Mr Fahour left the business in July. He did not respond to requests for comment sent to his lawyers.
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