ABCC commences legal action against CFMMEU and five Officials

ABCC commences legal action against CFMMEU and five Officials

The building industry watchdog, the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), has commenced legal action against the NSW branch of union giant the CFMMEU and its officials relating to alleged picket action at a construction site in Newcastle in October 2021.

The ABCC alleges the picketing commenced following the refusal of the principal contractor on the Huntington Apartments project to sign an enterprise agreement with the union. The project, located on water frontage in the regional city, is valued at $42 million and consists of 88 apartments with space for six restaurants and cafes.

In their statement of claim, the ABCC is alleging improper conduct by NSW State Secretary Robert Kera, and organisers Brendan Holl, Mark Cross, Joseph Uati, Karl Hitchcock, and Troy Davis.

The ABCC is alleging that the union led approximately 40 picketers in chanting slogans, waving union flags, and constantly intimidating workers via the use of megaphones and sirens over the period 7 October to 12 October 2021.

During the ongoing protest, several crane companies contracted to lift concrete decks into place, and erect site lifts refused to work, as did a number of scaffolders.

Further allegations include:

  • As workers accessed the site, they were subject to abuse, being called “f**king scabs, dogs and grubs”;

  • Workers received SMS messages telling them they were ‘scabs’ who would never work in the Newcastle area again.

On 12 October 2021, the ABCC alleges Troy Davis and Brendan Holl climbed the ladder of a tower crane during its operation, shook the crane’s ladders, and refused repeated calls for them to leave the crane. Work stopped immediately, and the crane did not operate for the remainder of the day.

The ABCC is alleging that the union’s actions at the site resulted in 14 contraventions of the Fair Work Act 2009 (the FW Act).

The maximum penalties that courts can impose for contraventions of the FW Act are $66,600 for a body corporate and $13,320 for an individual. The alleged coercive and intimidation of workers with words to the effect ‘never work again’, if proven, attract significantly higher penalties on average. We have had a number of enquiries from subcontractors noting the higher penalties imposed for this kind of behaviour in contrast to the more common right of entry breaches.

The Parliament appears to be unwilling to answer the repeated calls from the federal court in multiple decisions this year to empower the court with further deterrent options as the current fines are just the price of running a militant union. What could the Parliament consider, you ask?

Empower the Court to:

a)      Place the union into Administration for multiple and repeated breaches ‘a rogue union’;

b)      Suspend or remove Commonwealth taxation concession;

c)      Suspend or remove the Organisation’s registration;

d)      Property vesting orders from one union to another union;

e)      Ban individuals as Officers or Directors after multiple offences under their leadership;

f)       Asset seizure for assets used in the commission of an offence.

Why does it appear unions are beyond the reach of the court?

ABCC alleges CFMMEU targeted workers with abuse and threats at Newcastle building site | ABCC

For questions about union right of entry, site visits, enterprise agreements, or other employment questions, please contact Dean Cameron at Workforce Advisory Lawyers – We Know Employment Law at 1300 WAL LAW, 0417 622 178 or via email to dean.cameron@workforceadvisory.com.au

Disclaimer: This information is provided as general advice on workplace relations and employment law. It does not constitute legal advice, and it is always advisable to seek further information regarding specific workplace issues. Liability limited by a scheme approved under professional standards legislation.

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