THE Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) may soon face fines of up to $10 million for a secondary boycott alleged by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) against construction supply group Boral.
The ACCC has lodged proceedings with the Federal Court of Australia, alleging that between February 2013 and April 2014, the CFMEU directed shop stewards to ban the use of Boral concrete on 12 Melbourne construction sites.
It is alleged the shop stewards then informed Boral customers that the organisation’s concrete was not permitted for us and that vehicles carrying Boral concrete would be subject to regular safety checks designed to cause significant delays.
CFMEU Victoria state secretary John Setka and assistant state secretary Shaun Reardon are also fining fines of up to $220,000 each after they allegedly harassed Boral in an attempt to coerce the firm into a no-supply contract with construction company Grocon.
The proceedings follow a significant history of disputation between the union, Grocon and subsequently Boral, which holds an exclusive concrete supply deal for Grocon construction sites.
However, ACCC chair Rod Sims said the union had overstepped its boundaries.
“The ACCC considers unions have an important role in protecting the rights of workers and ensuring safe and productive work places,” ACCC chair Rod Sims said.
“However, the ACCC will not hesitate to take action where it has evidence that unions or individuals have engaged in conduct which goes beyond what is reasonable to protect workers, and is deliberately targeted at damaging business.”
Despite attaining an injunction on the secondary boycott of its products in 2013, Boral chief Mike Kane recently told the Royal Commission into Trade Union Corruption that the organisation was no longer considered at all for supplying construction projects in Melbourne.
The allegation prompted an investigation by the ACCC, which said the claims made by Boral were found to be substantiated.
“These proceedings relate to complex allegations of conduct spanning a 14 month period ending in April 2014, and occurring at 12 commercial construction sites,” Mr Sims said.
“The ACCC’s comprehensive investigation into the allegations against the CFMEU and its executives commenced in April 2013 and the ACCC has only been able to progress the investigation by compelling people to give evidence.”
Call renewed for industry watchdog
Australian business voiced its support for the proceedings instigated by the ACCC, with Master Builders Australia calling for the restoration of the construction industry watchdog to ensure the outcome has industry-wide effect.
“Secondary boycotts are brutal industrial tactics that inflict financial damage on employers to cow them into submitting to unreasonable union demands,” Master Builders chief Wilhelm Harnisch said in a recent statement.
“Building unions must understand that there is not one set of laws for them and another for the rest of the community. It is taxpayers who suffer because secondary boycotts force them to pay more for less community infrastructure.
“The ACCC has indicated that it experienced difficulties in gather sufficient evidence to mount this legal action.
“This is why a building industry watchdog with the stronger powers of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) should be given responsibility for secondary boycotts in the building and construction industry.”
The restoration of the ABCC is a policy priority that AMMA has also been a major advocate for in recent years.
The case against the CFMEU is listed for hearing in the Federal Court of Australia on 12 December 2014.