A Federal Court judge has held the senior leadership of the construction union’s Victorian branch sanctioned the black banning of subcontractors at a Melbourne building site, fining the union and its officials a total $142,000.
Justice Mordy Bromberg found top Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union leaders, including state secretary John Setka, were “involved” in threatening repercussions against three crane operators and a painting contractor if they worked on an apartment project in Carlton run by Maxstra Constructions in 2015.
Two CFMEU organisers, Theo Theodorou and Rob Graauwmans, admitted making the threats to coerce Maxstra to engage union contractors and re-employ a union delegate, who was fired for stopping a crane lift because the site’s traffic company was non-union.
The CFMEU admitted liability after the Australian Building and Construction Commission took legal action but argued for lower penalties on the basis there was no evidence its senior leadership was involved.
However, Justice Bromberg said the CFMEU’s “extensive” history of breaking industrial laws and its failure to take any steps to rectify non-compliance painted a different picture.
“That history, even if limited to the building and construction industry in Victoria, is so egregious as to enable an inference to be drawn that the senior leadership of the CFMMEU responsible for governing those activities, either expressly or impliedly condones the breach by its officers or employees of industrial laws as a necessary incident of the industrial activities those persons are expected to perform.”
He said the absence of any compliance systems within the CFMEU was “particularly alarming given the heavily-critical comments of the CFMEU made by this court in many cases over recent years”.
As a result, he held the CFMEU’s senior state leadership condoned the coercion and fined the union $120,000, with its organisers and delegate hit with an extra $22,000 fine.
The judge also rejected any significant mitigation based on the union’s admissions after noting it was likely the CFMEU merely intended to “cut its losses” by avoiding a costly trial.
“There is little to suggest that altruism of any kind was involved in the decision made by the respondents to co-operate.”
‘Threatened workers’ livelihood’
ABC Commissioner Stephen McBurney said the unlawful conduct in this case “directly threatened the livelihoods of the contractors and their workers”.
“It resulted in a scheduled crane lift being aborted. This impacted the workers on site, the workers for three crane companies, a painting contractor, and the head contractor, all at a critical point of the project.
“Workers should be free to earn their livelihood without being subjected to coercion by union officials undertaken in pursuit of the industrial objectives of the CFMEU.”
The decision follows the Federal Court finding that Mr Setka led a union meeting in 2013 that instructed CFMEU delegates to ban concrete company Boral from Melbourne building sites.
The CFMEU’s total fines since 2005 have now surpassed $15 million following a $51,300 fine last week for abusing non-union workers at the Gorgon LNG plant.
Source: Australian Financial Review