The ACTU has questioned the future of Australian Industrial Relations Commission Senior Deputy President Rob Cartwright over his role in a case that has left Telstra facing fines that may total $420 million.

Federal Court Judge Ray Finkelstein on Friday warned that Telstra could face the massive fines for breaching the Workplace Relations Act last year, when Mr Cartwright was Telstra’s employee relations manager.

“On the basis of this finding by the Federal Court, Mr Cartwright’s future as a Senior Deputy President of the Commission has to be questioned,” ACTU Secretary Greg Combet said today.

A Telstra email written by Mr Cartwright was central to the Court’s finding that Telstra unlawfully discriminated against employees – many of them union members – who refused to sign individual contracts.

Mr Cartwright sent the email while planning hundreds of job cuts from Telstra in March last year. Justice Finkelstein decided that he was “not persuaded” that Mr Cartwright’s evidence was true.

“It was one of Peter Reith’s last acts as Workplace Relations Minister to appoint Mr Cartwright to this senior position with the AIRC, where he is entrusted to deal impartially with unions and employers,” Mr Combet said.

“Peter Reith is now going, and Mr Cartwright’s future must also be questioned. Unions and employees will be apprehensive about Mr Cartwright’s impartiality.”

The Court will decide on the amount of the fines after written submissions are received from Telstra and unions later this month.

Justice Finkelstein raised the possibility that Telstra may have breached the Workplace Relations Act 42,500 times (once for each employee), thereby raising the possibility of a total $420 million in fines.