Construction Union’s ‘Coercive Pressure’ Brings $500,000-Plus Fine


The load of financial penalties just got a lot heavier for Australia’s construction union, which has been blasted by the Federal Court for “overt and covert” misuse of its industrial muscle.

It has been slapped with a further $554,600 in fines over a campaign to coerce New South Wales crane operators into signing up to union enterprise agreements.

The latest penalties take to more than $2 million the total that the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union’s New South Wales branch has been ordered to pay in three separate judgements over its campaign involving site boycotts and blockades

In the judgment handed down this week relating to unlawful conduct against Newcastle company Wheeler Cranes in October 2018, Federal Court Justice Wendy Abraham said: “The contravention record speaks for itself in evidencing the CFMMEU’s recidivism.

“The CFMMEU’s repeated failure to obey Commonwealth workplace relations legislation is self-evident.”

Justice Abraham deemed the union’s conduct against Wheeler Cranes as “deliberate, pre-meditated, co-ordinated, and for clearly prohibited purposes”.

“It was clearly intended to exert coercive pressure ... through the overt and covert industrial muscle of the union, to get Wheeler Cranes to give in to the CFMMEU’s demands in respect of the EBA.”

The judgment also observed and added: “There is no expression of remorse or regret. Considerations of deterrence loom large”.

The union was ordered to pay $460,000 and its officials Brendan Holl and Justin Hobson—ruled by Justice Abraham as having “deliberately flouted the law in taking coercive action to secure a desired result”—copped fines of $61,600 and $33,000, respectively.

It follows two previous judgments relating to the union’s conduct against Botany Cranes and WGC Cranes that resulted in penalties of $1,022,500 and $382,800 respectively. In the former case—still subject to an appeal—the court also awarded costs of $133,000.

The Australian Building and Construction Commission said the severity of the penalty and comments from Justice Abraham in the latest case clearly reflected “the court’s frustration with the CFMMEU’s systemic pattern of behaviour when it comes to getting its way on construction sites”.

“The employees of Botany Cranes, Wheeler Cranes and WGC Cranes had their livelihoods threatened by the unlawful conduct of the CFMMEU and its officials,” ABCC commissioner Stephen McBurney said. “This strikes at the very heart of the protections contained in the Fair Work Act and the BCIIP Act.

“Despite the findings of the Court, the leadership of the union has expressed no contrition and no remorse. There has also been no clear statement of intent or direction from the leadership of the CFMMEU to its officials to desist from such unlawful conduct in the future.”

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