Privacy issues involving de sal contractors

June 5, 2012 |

In Desal firm ‘sorry’ over secret files the Age reports on an ongoing Federal Court case involving allegations that Theiss Degremont gave applicant’s files to a third party.

The article provides:

THE builder of the Wonthaggi desalination plant has apologised to workers after it gave a strikebreaker files with confidential information on more than 15,000 people.

The files included medical records, bank account numbers, and salary details of many who applied for a job building the plant.

The plant’s builder, Thiess Degremont, in 2010 gave the files to self-proclaimed union buster and industrial spy Bruce Townsend, who was convicted in 2006 of receiving stolen property and sentenced to two years and nine months in a Tasmanian prison.

Mr Townsend and a company he controls, Australian Security and Investigations, were employed by Thiess Degremont in 2010.

They infiltrated the desalination plant, reporting back to select managers on the potential militancy of the heavily unionised workforce.

Mr Townsend has claimed, in court documents, that his role was to prepare and organise a non-union ‘‘substitute workforce’’ at short notice.

Workers at the desalination plant walked off the job in November 2010 after reports in The Australian about MrTownsend’s role.

He later launched a $5.2 million claim against Thiess Degremont, which is trying to claw back  $567,778 it paid his company for eight weeks’ work on the plant.

In March, three unions acting for workers at the desalination plant launched a legal action to force Thiess Degremont and Mr Townsend to hand over the database containing personal information on what was then an unknown number of people.

The full extent of the information that Thiess Degremont managers gave Mr Townsend is now clear.

A copy of the files given to Mr Townsend and his companycontained private information on 15,040 employees or applicants for work at Wonthaggi.

For many in the files, only simple details such as a name and home address appear.

But Mr Townsend and his company were given information on the wages, addresses, driver’s licence numbers, mobile phone numbers (and those of spouses or emergency contacts), tax file numbers, superannuation account numbers and bank account details of hundreds of Thiess Degremont workers.

Confirmation was also included on whether individuals were union members.

Also given to Mr Townsend and his company were details of drug and medical testing, a history of each individual’s physical injuries, and their medical assessment completed before starting work.

On Thursday, unions, Thiess Degremont and representatives of Australian Security and Investigations will sit down in the Federal Court as part of an arbitrated attempt to settle the legal action.

Thiess Degremont last week began sending out letters to hundreds of affected employees and job applicants to say sorry for its actions.

The letters, signed by Thiess Degremont’s general manager of people and community, Julian Rzesniowiecki, provided 520 employees or job applicants with a copy of the documents that Thiess Degremont had given Mr Townsend and his company.

‘‘We deeply regret and apologise for the manner in which your private information was managed, and the way in which this contractor was engaged and operated without proper approval and in breach of our guidelines,’’ Mr Rzesniowiecki wrote.

Thiess Degremont could not be certain that Australian Security and Investigations had not passed personal information about employees and job applicants on to others, he wrote.
Before March, Thiess Degremont claimed only very basic information about employees had been given to Mr Townsend.

Electrical Trades Union assistant secretary Troy Gray said: ‘‘Townsend has done 2 years [in prison] … so to find out that the information has not only been in his hands, but on a server in the Netherlands where Townsend put it, begs the question of who else has had access to it.’’

In Thiess suspends managers after spy scandal the Australian reported last year that the managers involved in the provision of the files were suspended.
The Victorian Privacy Commissioner has undertaken a very thorough and impressive report on the incident which can be found here.


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