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Penguin Books Editor 'Disciplined' After Tweets Supporting Penalty Rates

The MEAA trade union is taking Penguin Random House to the Fair Work Commission, after one of its members claimed to have been given a "first and final warning" for tweeting in support of penalty rates for book sellers.

Beth Patch, an editor with Penguin Random House in Melbourne and a union delegate for the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), posted two tweets on her personal account in late June.

The first, on June 26, included a picture of several colleagues holding paper signs saying "keep penalty rates for booksellers."

Her tweet read: "Staff from the publishing industry stand in solidarity with booksellers as they face penalty cuts from July 1st! The staff at bookshops such as Readings deserve penalty rates – this industry can’t survive without its workers and readers standing together!"

The tweet also included two emojis of a raised fist.

Readings, a popular book store, tweeted soon after that it had been "name-checked as a bookseller that is reducing penalty rates", but said "that's not the case" and that it would continue paying Sunday penalty loading.

Patch (left) and the first of two tweets she posted. Photo: MEAA

Patch quoted this in another tweet on June 27, writing "Readings leading the way on wages for booksellers. So great to hear they're committed to no cuts for penalty rates - the industry needs more businesses like you!" with an emoji of a heart.

Her Twitter profile at the time listed her as "Editor at Penguin". Patch alleges that two days later, she was called into a meeting at work and given what she was told was a "first and final warning" for breaching company policy.

While she still has her job, she still took the disciplinary action to her union.

Adam Portelli, MEAA Regional Director for Victoria and Tasmania, told 10 daily Patch had been told she contravened the company's social media policy, as well as potentially damaging PRH's relationship with book sellers.

He said she was asked to delete the two tweets, which she did.

Penguin Random House was approac

hed for comment but a company spokesperson said it could not comment on individual employee matters.

Patch herself referred media enquiries to MEAA.

"This is a warning so serious that the employer, rather than give out warnings which is usually the case, went straight to a final warning, meaning any other disciplinary matter could end in termination. This is concerning to us," Portelli told 10 daily.

"The reason given from PRH was that her behaviour, in their view, breached the social media policy and potentially damaged PRH and their business relationships."

The second tweet. Photo: supplied

PRH is currently negotiating a workplace agreement for its employees with MEAA, which the union said would be the first of its type in the publishing industry.

"Negotiations are ongoing. It is concerning to us that, as a union delegate and activist, she has been put in this situation and we'd hope there is no connection between the two matters," Portelli said.

"Our view is Penguin's actions are heavy-handed in the extreme."

"One tweet was solidarity with workers in a related industry, and a follow up tweet congratulating another company. It wasn't racist, homophobic or threatening."

Portelli said MEAA is in the process of filing an adverse action claim with the Fair Work Commission, seeking to have the "first and final warning" set aside.

MEAA is also running an online petition in support of Patch, while the union house committees of the Sydney Morning Herald and Age newspapers have also released a statement backing her.

"It was a benign comment," Portelli said.

"Workers should be able to take part in lawful industrial activity without fear of being disciplined by their employer."

Contact the author jobutler@networkten.com.au