Victoria’s militant construction union, the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union, has signalled its officials may start wearing body cameras used by police on the same day the Australian Building and Construction Commission launched a landmark prosecution against the union for alleged unlawful picketing.
The court action is the first time building construction watchdog has used unlawful picketing provisions with significantly higher penalties than were available under previous legislation.
The ABCC alleges the CFMEU and three of its representatives allegedly blocked access to two Melbourne building sites in May last year. Cold storage company Newcold has two sites at which the union was alleged to have prevented office staff, subcontractors and workers from entering or leaving on May 8.
The maximum penalties for a breach under the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Act 2016 are more than three times as high than previous fines at $210,000 for bodies corporate and $42,000 for individuals.
Earlier this week the ABCC launched another action against the CFMEU. This time alleging its officials broke rules when they walked onto the $220 million Monash Freeway upgrade during night works in late April last year.
CFMEU Victorian secretary John Setka declined to comment on that specific case. Though he did take the opportunity to launch a fresh attack on the ABCC on Tuesday pointing to an incident at the Chandler Highway upgrade which he alleged was botched and resulted in mistreatment of a union representative.
“Incidences like these are often setup with lies and misinformation by builders hiding behind the ABCC in order to cut corners on safety to make an extra buck,” Mr Setka said.
“At the Chandler Highway upgrade, a bridge that was built straight but should have been curved has cost taxpayers considerably because Seymour Whyte, the principle contractor, failed to take the care or time required to look at the plans.”
The union’s legal department is looking into the Chandler Highway incident and assessing all possibilities, including potential prosecution. The union is also considering introducing body cameras for officials to gather evidence against false accusations.
The union official in question alleges that while trying to inspect the crane and lifting gear at the site he was assaulted and refused entry despite having and presenting the required federal permits.
Mr Setka said a video of the incident taken on the union official’s phone showed that as he moved closer to the crane, Seymour Whyte representatives “get more agitated and violent”.
“Eventually he was surrounded and had to succumb to the aggression,” he said.
“Victoria Police soon after turned up but could not understand the paperwork and asked the CFMEU Official to leave despite him having the right to be there. He even informed them they were hindering and obstructing his right of entry when they should have been supporting him.”
“The next day it is alleged the crane had not had its ten year safety inspection and that Seymour Whyte stopped using the crane and the crew as it was in an unsafe condition at the time of the attempted inspection and that CFMEU members were subjected to working at an unsafe worksite.”
The Brisbane Times reports a spokeswoman for Seymour Whyte as saying it always works in compliance with health, safety and workplace relations regulations, “and the Chandler Highway Upgrade project is no exception”.
“Our project management team understand unions’ right of entry and we honour this when the lawful and orderly approach to right of entry is exercised,” she said.
“We treat all people with respect, and do not use violence or aggression against anyone. We use accredited systems and processes to ensure that all equipment and plant on our sites are safe and well maintained.”