The Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) continues its active investigation and prosecution of workplace law breaches, highlighting its important role in upholding compliance.

CFMMEU and Head Contractor penalised over $100,000 for discriminating and threatening subcontractor

In the latest case, the Federal Court imposed penalties totaling $108,875 against the CFMMEU and Harris HMC Interiors for attempting to coerce a demolition subcontractor to make an enterprise agreement with the CFMMEU at the Kathleen Syme Library and Community Centre in Carlton.

The Court ordered the CFMMEU to pay a penalty of $72,000 and imposed a personal payment order of $9,000 on CFMMEU official Theo Theodorou for his unlawful conduct. The personal payment order will prevent the CFMMEU from paying Mr Theodorou’s penalties.

Construction company Harris HMC Interiors was penalised $23,400 and three of its employees a total of $4,475.

The court found that on 15 November 2013 Mr Theodorou told the subcontractor that because it was “working in the city, it needed to obtain an enterprise agreement with the CFMEU.”

During that conversation the subcontractor told Mr Theodorou “financially I’m not able to sign the enterprise agreement right now”.

Mr Theodorou replied “I’m going to make everything very difficult and not let the boys work on the Site”.

Harris HMC operations manager Jason Dwyer later gave an “ultimatum” to the subcontractor that if he didn’t “sign the EBA with the union, then your boys would not be able to work on the site on [the following] Tuesday”.

In handing down the penalty judgment, Justice Wheelahan took into account a table of contraventions that was tendered which identified 142 proceedings between 2003 and 2018 in which findings of contraventions of industrial legislation have been made against the CFMEU as a result of its conduct in the building and construction industry.

ABCC Commissioner Stephen McBurney said attempts to coerce subcontractors to sign up to enterprise agreements, whether made by unions or employers, was unacceptable.

“The CFMMEU and Harris Interiors exerted pressure on the subcontractor, essentially threatening his company’s livelihood and that of the workers they employed,” Mr McBurney said.

Discriminating against subcontractor following CFMMEU threat costs company $575,000

The Federal Circuit Court in Brisbane penalised Forest Meiers Construction and its construction manager a total of $35,000 for refusing to engage subcontractor C&K Tiling because the company did not have an enterprise agreement with the CFMMEU.

The penalty follows a compensation and interest order on 26 June 2019 where Forest Meiers was ordered to pay the tiling subcontractor $240,000 (which included $40,000 interest).

On 24 February 2014, the tiling company submitted a tender to Forest Meiers for its Remora Road project in Hamilton, with the tiling company ultimately becoming the preferred bidder for the project.

During a meeting on 18 July 2014, Forest Meiers Construction Manager William Munro told the tiling company’s Managing Director: “The [CFMMEU] contacted me at around 5:00 yesterday. They threatened action on the site if we signed you up.”

In handing down the penalty judgment today, Judge Jarrett said “despite having the best price for the tiling works, a competitor was engaged whose price was some $300,000 more than that tendered by C&K. … such behaviour is not only to the detriment of victims such as C&K, but to the industry and the community at large.”

The Court imposed a $32,000 penalty against Forest Meiers Construction and a $3,000 penalty against Mr Munro.

The penalty against Forest Meiers and its managing director highlighted the need for companies to respect workplace rights and ensure they do not discriminate against subcontractors.

“This is an all too familiar case where the CFMMEU threatens to take action against a site or a company if they use certain subcontractors that don’t have a CFMMEU enterprise agreement,” ABCC Commissioner Stephen McBurney said.

“The cost of doing business with the CFMMEU in this case is over $500,000. That’s $300,000 on a more expensive tender, a $240,000 compensation order and $35,000 in penalties.

Court exposes ‘contrived’ safety claim: CFMMEU and official penalised $34,500 in Geelong Grammar matter

The Federal Court has handed down penalties totaling $34,500 against the CFMMEU and its former official Brendan Murphy after Mr Murphy was found to have intentionally hindered and obstructed construction work at the Geelong Grammar school in December 2014.

On 3 December 2014 Mr Murphy entered the Geelong Grammar construction site without providing notice and refused to show his entry permit for inspection. He then refused multiple requests to leave the site and called a meeting of workers.

Following the meeting he told the site manager he would not leave until everyone was off the site because he was not happy with the subcontractors that had been engaged. A number of workers left the site and work ceased.

Mr Murphy threatened that he would be back the next day to make sure the site wasn’t open.

In an earlier liability judgment the Federal Court rejected Mr Murphy’s claim that he was concerned about safety at the site.

The ABCC remains in place to ensure building and construction industry participants’ compliance with Australia’s workplace laws.

As a consistent supporter of the ABCC since it was first recommended by the Cole Royal Commission in 2003, AMMA recently provided input into a review of the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Act 2016 (BCIIP Act), reiterating industry’s support for the regulator’s retention.

Further, AMMA continues to support the passage of the “Ensuring Integrity Bill”, which contains various measures seeking to lift the standards, behaviours and transparency of all registered organisations including trade unions and registered employer groups.

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