Is social media commentary on twitter, Facebook, websites and other internet forums a breach of good faith? Talley's think it is with their latest application in the Employment Authority for an "interim compliance order" requiring the Meat Workers Union to effectively shut down all of its social and internet media, including this site.
The application would require the Meat Workers Union, its officers and agents to “comply with the duty of good faith by ceasing and desisting from publishing on any website, twitter account or other site viewable on the internet, items referring to the applicant or its parent company or officers that are unbalanced, misleading, untruthful, and/or derogatory until further order of the Authority.”
AFFCO/Talley’s is also seeking to ban Meat Workers Union organiser, Darien Fenton from representing members at meetings or mediation.
This comes on top of other claims of breaches of good faith, filed last year, that included comments on a blog site, independent of the Meat Workers Union. The purpose of the action was to end bargaining, giving Talley's the dubious honour of being the first company in New Zealand to use the National Government's new laws.
This claim was adjourned sine die when a full bench of the Employment Court ruled on AFFCO Talley's breaches of good faith last November and their unlawful lockouts of AFFCO workers. This was after their attempt to implement company individual agreements and force union members onto non union agreements .
The claim to end bargaining is still before the court and due to be heard in July 2016, along with the MWU’s application to fix the terms of the collective agreement, under a never before used provision of the Employment Relations Act.
Is criticising an employer, reporting on factual outcomes of cases and representing members views on line a breach of good faith?
What does the law say? There is a specific provision in the Employment Relations Act under Part 4 : that says that "the duty of good faith does not prevent a party to an employment relationship communicating to another person a statement of fact or of opinion reasonably held about an employer's business."
So while the duty of good faith is important, it is not meant to muzzle opinion or freedom of association. Otherwise, workers could never go on strike, and protest, or campaign.
This is a chilling attempt by AFFCO Talley's to shut down dissent and disagreement. Unfortunately for Talley's, on-line community goes well beyond the Meat Workers Union. People can, and will form their own views and express them as free citizens, just as union members will and should, continue to do.