AFL management has been warned that a directive to a staff member that they are not permitted to use their work email to share union material is unlawful and contravenes the Fair Work Act.

The United Services Union yesterday wrote to the AFL, warning of potential action in the Fair Work Commission if adverse action was taken against the staff member for continuing to engage in lawful industrial activity.

The attempt to gag staff members comes less than a week after AFL Media controversially stood down journalist Mitch Cleary for tweeting an Instagram post by the wife of Richmond captain Trent Cotchin which revealed a breach of the AFL’s COVID-19 protocols.

In recent weeks, administrative staff at the AFL have sought union assistance due to fears more than half the workforce could lose their jobs in response to the COVID-19 crisis, with management forcing them to ‘re-pitch their talent’ to justify keeping their jobs.

United Services Union organiser Troy Dunne said correspondence sent by AFL management to staff members appeared aimed at silencing their collective voice.

“The written direction from AFL management to staff members that they not use their work email to share union information is clearly an attempt to silence their collective voice, in breach of the Fair Work Act,” Mr Dunne said.

“The fact that this follows on the heels of a senior journalist at AFL Media — which is meant to operate independently from the league — being stood down for simply doing his job and reporting on a breach of COVID-19 protocols has sent shudders through the workforce.

“The USU has written to AFL management warning that restricting the legal rights of workers under the act, including their ability to engage in industrial activity, could see the matter taken to the Fair Work Commission.

“These two incidents raise an alarming question: why is the AFL so determined to limit the flow of information to its most important stakeholders, its staff and the footy loving public?”

Australian Services Union Victorian Private Sector Branch Secretary Matt Norrey said unions had been actively engaged by AFL staff over fears management was looking to use the COVID-19 crisis as cover to slash their administrative workforce.

“We understand from members that AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan has been encouraging employees to look for new jobs at all-staff briefings,” Mr Norrey said.

“Staff members believe uncertainty and stress around job security is being cultivated in an effort to convince them to resign rather than come back to work or receive genuine redundancies.

“The assertions from staff that they are being told to re-pitch their talent, effectively forcing them to justify keeping their current jobs, in a process that lacks openness and transparency, is particularly alarming.”

United Services Union General Secretary Graeme Kelly OAM said the AFL’s treatment of staff was failing to live up to community expectations.

“The AFL claims a commitment to social justice and equality, but they are failing to uphold those values with their treatment of the loyal staff who work tirelessly behind the scenes,” Mr Kelly said

“Management is responsible for the current financial crisis — they failed to put money aside from the rivers of gold that flowed during the good years — and now staff are being forced to pay the price.

“While players, through the AFL Players Association, have been given a seat at the table when big decisions are being made, that same consideration is being refused to staff.

“Staff deserve to be at the negotiating table, with a strong collective voice through their unions, rather than the current situation where secretive decisions are imposed by AFL management.”

Further information: Tim Vollmer — 0404 273 313