The Chevron Wheatstone platform in Western Australia
The Chevron Wheatstone platform in Western Australia

‘I don’t f***ing like cowboys’: Worker sacked after fight

A WEST Australian construction worker who was bashed in an altercation sparked by a cowboy hat has lost his bid for unfair dismissal.

Kristian Weir was sacked by Bechtel Construction from his job as a rigger on Chevron's Wheatstone LNG Project in WA's Pilbara region earlier this year for "serious misconduct" over his involvement in a fight at the on-site bar, known as a "wet mess".

Mr Weir was having a beer with work colleagues in July when an unknown person walked past and took his cowboy hat from his head.

Mr Weir followed the man and grabbed him by the shirt to retrieve the hat. The man then threw the hat across the room. When Mr Weir went to retrieve the hat, the man confronted him and "verbally and aggressively" abused him.

"In a defensive manner the Applicant chest-bumped the unknown person in order to clear some space, and the unknown person then punched the Applicant three times in the face," Fair Work documents state.

Mr Weir told his employer the unknown person said to him, "I don't like you and I don't f***ing like cowboys," when he went to retrieve his hat, which had sentimental value.

"At that point I felt threatened," he told the Commission. "I was sort of backed into the table, and I chest-bumped him to get him out of my space."

Despite not being the initial aggressor, Mr Weir was sacked for breaching his contract, which prohibited "offensive, intimidating, anti-social or violent behaviour in any form, regardless of how or why it was initiated".

Mr Weir filed an application for unfair dismissal, with his lawyers arguing, among other things, that he did not instigate the incident and that he did not hit or punch the man while he himself was hit three times, sustaining facial injury.

Fair Work heard Bechtel Construction had a "de facto" policy of terminating any worker involved in a fight, regardless of who was at fault.

On Wednesday, Fair Work Commission Deputy President Abbey Beaumont dismissed the application, finding that the "chest bump" was an aggressive act. She argued while the hat snatch was "juvenile", there was "no evidence to suggest that the act was aggressive".

"What was initially a stupid act by the unknown person then quickly escalated into an interaction that was open to be characterised as an aggressive or violent confrontation," she said.

"The Applicant launched himself at the unknown person using the expanse of his chest. To affirm this behaviour as an acceptable means to place distance between two individuals would be unsound.

"I have found that it was not an act undertaken in self-defence and that the provocation was not such that it reduced the blameworthiness or seriousness of the act of the Applicant.

"I accept that the Applicant was hit three times sustaining a facial injury and that the unknown person received no injuries. However, the Applicant received three punches in circumstances where immediately prior he had exerted force against the unknown person with his chest."

Ms Beaumont said while it was "reprehensible" that Mr Weir was punched, she did not consider the "unfortunate injury ... a circumstance to which weight should be afforded in determining whether there was a valid reason for his dismissal".

"I am satisfied that the Applicant engaged in serious misconduct," she said. "The response to that misconduct was reasonable, just and was not disproportionate."

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