The latest in a string of high-profile prosecutions against the CFMMEU for breaches of industrial laws is further evidence that Australian businesses and the community need protection from the deliberate and repeated unlawful conduct of unions and their officials.
With the Government set to ramp up its campaign to secure passage of the Ensuring Integrity Bill when Parliament resumes in February, the CFMMEU shows no signs of ceasing its recidivist law-breaking as these fresh allegations demonstrate exactly why the Ensuring Integrity laws are needed.
CFMMEU officials allegedly threaten ‘old school’ tactics at aged care project
The ABCC this week commenced Federal Court action against the CFMMEU and three of its officials alleging they disrupted a concrete pour during construction of an aged care centre in November 2018.
The ABCC is alleging the CFMMEU officials threatened to engage in ‘old school’ tactics on the Kiama Aged Care Centre project led to a concrete pour being halted and three truckloads of concrete being wasted.
The union officials allegedly failed to show entry permits and demanded that workers be removed from the work area and be re-inducted.
One of the union officials said words to the effect of “we’ll do it old school and block the concrete trucks”, before walking to the back of a reversing concrete truck preventing it from unloading its content.
When a second concrete truck tried to enter the project site all three CFMMEU officials blocked its path. The union official then shouted words to the effect: “we are shutting down the site”. He then ran his finger across his throat.
A third concrete truck was also prevented from entering the site as a result of the CFMMEU officials’ actions. The concrete in all three trucks had to be disposed of.
Two of the union officials returned to the work site the following day and again refused to show their right of entry permits.
The ABCC is alleging the CFMMEU and the three officials contravened section 47 of the BCIIP Act by organising or engaging in an unlawful picket and the Fair Work Act by failing to produce a valid Federal right of entry permit, hindering and obstructing and acting in an inappropriate manner.
The maximum penalty for each contravention of the Fair Work Act is $63,000 for a body corporate and $12,600 for an individual. The maximum penalty for each contravention of the BCIIP Act is $210,000 for a body corporate and $42,000 for an individual.
Federal Court fines CFMMEU and two officials over ‘form of extortion’
Last week the Federal Circuit Court in Sydney imposed penalties totalling $156,900 against the CFMMEU and two of its officials after they contrived safety concerns about a crane company and organised work stoppages at three sites.
The Court found the union officials’ conduct was not motivated by a genuine concern for the health and safety of the crane company’s employees, but as a means to inconvenience the company.
The two union officials’ conduct was aimed at pressuring the crane company to retain a CFMMEU site delegate.
The CFMMEU was penalised $135,000, Mr Sloane $15,200 and Mr Collier $6,700.
In his judgment, Judge Cameron said these were “serious contraventions”.
“The absence of any form of contrition, and the maintenance of a defence which was signally lacking in merit, suggest that the respondents, particularly the CFMMEU and Mr Sloane, did not really take this proceeding or the contraventions which underlie it seriously,” Judge Cameron said.
“..the contraventions were a form of extortion and it cannot be doubted that they were a discrete campaign. … the inconvenience Mr Sloane caused to Reds Global on 24 March 2014 was based on a contrivance. Those are serious matters.”
Australian Building and Construction Commissioner, Stephen McBurney said: “the bogus safety complaints were 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.
“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, on an assessment of the evidence, that there is an ulterior motive.”
CFMMEU pressures company to dump AWU workers
Also last week the ABCC commenced Federal Court action against the CFMMEU and two of its officials alleging they pressured a construction company to terminate its contract with a labour hire firm and replace it with one with a CFMMEU enterprise agreement.
At the time of the threat in March 2019, CPB Contractors had engaged a labour hire firm whose workers were members of the AWU. The firm also had an AWU enterprise agreement in place.
The ABCC is alleging CFMMEU organisers Dean Reilly and Paul Fitzpatrick threatened CPB that if it didn’t replace the subcontractor with one they recommended, the union would prevent precast products manufactured for the Coffs Harbour Hospital project from being delivered.
It is alleged that on 25 January 2019 Mr Reilly met with CPB representatives where he said words to the effect that the company should make sure its workers are members of the CFMMEU.
Mr Reilly advised the company against using the labour hire firm and said he would provide a list of preferred contractors associated with the CFMMEU for CPB to engage.
On 4 March 2019 Mr Reilly told CPB’s project director the CFMMEU had a problem with workers at the company’s yard being AWU workers and that they needed to be CFMMEU workers.
Mr Reilly also said the CFMMEU may have a problem with the yard’s precast products, which the union would prevent being delivered to the hospital project site.
On 5 March Mr Reilly and Mr Fitzpatrick attended the yard where they met with the yard manager and production superintendent.
During the meeting the CFMMEU officials again said unless all of the workers, including labour hire workers, at the yard were covered by a CFMMEU enterprise agreement any precast products manufactured for the hospital project would be prevented from being delivered.
On 14 March Mr Reilly again phoned the project manager advising the company to get the workers at the yard to become members of the CFMMEU or replace them completely by engaging a labour hire company with a CFMMEU enterprise agreement.
The termination of the contract would have affected up to 40 workers engaged by the labour hire firm.
The ABCC alleges the conduct contravenes the coercion and adverse action provisions in the Fair Work Act.
The maximum penalty for a contravention under the Fair Work Act is $63,000 for a body corporate and $12,600 for an individual.
Ensuring Integrity Bill back in the spotlight
In the final parliamentary sitting period this year, the Government re-introduced the Ensuring Integrity Bill following its earlier shock defeat in the Senate. The Ensuring Integrity Bill is expected to attract fierce debate in the Senate when Parliament returns on 4 February 2020.
The latest prosecutions and penalties against the CFMMEU further assist the Government to build the case for why the Ensuring Integrity Bill is important, not only to business but to the broader community.
“We trust the Senate Crossbench will assess and vote on future reforms on their individual merits and not be unduly influenced by vested interest misinformation campaigns,” Steve Knott, AMMA CEO, said.
AMMA has long supported passage of the Ensuring Integrity Bill since it was first introduced in 2017. It remains one of eight workplace reform priorities identified for the 46th Parliament in AMMA’s policy booklet Pathway to Productivity.
AMMA will continue to advocate for the important measures within the Ensuring Integrity Bill that will considerably improve our nation’s industrial relations environment and promote greater compliance with industrial laws.