Now here’s an act of potential monumental silliness by the Fair Work Ombudsman that could rebound badly. According to a report on the Fairfax websites overnight, the March unauthorised stop-work by Fairfax Media journalists over the latest round of job losses at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, has prompted a probe by the Fair Work Ombudsman that could result in heavy fines levied on the strikers.

After the move in March by Fairfax management to cut 120 full-time jobs (since trimmed, but with a further 12 added at The Canberra Times), journalists went on strike over the weekend from March 17 to 20 at the newspapers in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane, Perth, Newcastle and the Illawarra area of NSW.

“The ombudsman’s action could expose the journalists to individual fines of up to $10,800 for breaching the Fair Work Act. The union could face a fine of up to $54,000,” the report said.

“Cases of the Fair Work Ombudsman pursuing individuals for unlawful strikes are rare. They have mainly occurred in instances when a company has won legal orders to suspend strikes, but workers refuse to comply. Previous high-profile cases have involved striking maritime workers and transport workers.”

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What’s more, Fairfax made no application to the Fair Work Commission to suspend the strike at the time. So it would seem that the ombudsman is investigating the strike off its own bat — to what purpose is unclear. If it attempts to fine the journalists and the unions, it will spark a furore, especially with the job cuts in the offing. It would seem to be the ombudsman (perhaps unwittingly) is trying to cower the union and journalists in the event of more industrial action over the actual cuts when they happen.

As a Crikey subscriber and someone who began working as a journalist in 1957, I am passionate about the importance of independent media like Crikey. I met a lot of Australians from many walks of life during my career and did my best to share their stories honestly and fairly with their fellow citizens.

And I never forgot how important it is to hold politicians to account. Crikey does that – something that is more important now than ever before in Australia.

North Stradbroke Island, QLD

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