A federal judge has lashed the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU) for using “bogus” safety claims to shut down three Sydney construction sites as he handed the union and two officials a combined $156,900 penalty.
Federal Circuit Court judge Robert Cameron said the “deliberate”, “flagrant” and “serious” contraventions of workplace laws were “at their heart, a form of extortion”.
The court in August found CFMMEU officials Tony Sloane and Luke Collier’s shutdown of crane operator Reds Global’s Ultimo, Erskineville and Hornsby work sites in 2014 citing safety concerns was contrived as a way to “inconvenience” the company in retaliation for its handling of a worker who had injured his knee.Mr Sloane was found to have engaged in adverse action, coercion and organised unlawful industrial action while Mr Collier was found to have engaged in adverse action and coercion.
Judge Cameron on Thursday fined the union $135,000, Mr Sloane $15,200 and Mr Collier $6700, saying the union’s conduct was an “abuse and misuse” of its status as the representative of its members.
He said the CFMMEU was “a notorious recidivistic contravener of industrial legislation and was a recidivist prior to the events the subject of [the case]”.
The breaches had occurred even though the union’s NSW branch held $3 million in assets, collected $15 million a year in member fees and employed a legal officer, he said.
“There is no doubt that the CFMMEU … had the resources to be aware of the relevant statutory provisions, their operation and application,” Judge Cameron said in the decision. “It also has the means to pay such penalties as may be imposed in this case.”
Master Builders Australia seized on the decision to call for tougher laws to crack down on unions, backing the federal government’s Ensuring Integrity Bill, which was blocked in the Senate last month by One Nation and Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie. Reintroducing the bill – which would make it easier to deregister law-breaking unions and officials – in the lower house earlier this month, Attorney-General Christian Porter said it would deter “repeated law breaking” by unions like the CFMMEU.
“Everything about this case shows why the ensuring integrity laws are so crucial to our industry,” MBA chief executive Denita Wawn said. “This case should clearly show the Parliament that the current system can’t cope with the CFMMEU, which is prepared to break the law … and simply pay the fine.”
Australian Building and Construction Commissioner Steve McBurney said the union’s “bogus” safety complaints had been “deployed in a targeted campaign against the crane company in order to achieve the CFMMEU’s industrial objectives”.
“I note the findings of the court that the conduct was not motivated by a genuine concern for the health and safety of the crane company’s employees,” Mr McBurney said. “This is not an isolated case. It is demonstrative of a pattern of behaviour where CFMMEU officials have exercised right of entry claiming safety concerns, only for the courts to conclude … that there is an ulterior motive.”
Source: The Age