ABCC secures penalties against CFMMEU, union official and contractor

ABCC secures penalties against CFMMEU, union official and contractor

Australia’s building industry watchdog, the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), has secured significant penalties in the Federal Court against the CFMMEU, its South Australian State Secretary, and a contractor engaged in an unlawful picket in October 2019 during the construction of the $27 million East Terrace Apartments.

In evidence before Federal Court Justice John O’Sullivan, a group of at least 30 people, some wearing clothes embossed with CFMMEU banners and waving union flags, gathered outside the front gate of the site. The protest was linked to a commercial dispute between a South Australian-owned and operated subcontractor, Core-Form, and the head contractor on the project.

Core-Form had been contracted to supply and construct formwork for the project. Following a dispute between the parties, Core-Form alleged they were owed a sum of $180,000 for work done at the site and, as a result of not being paid, had been forced to lay off workers.

In an unusual occurrence, the director of Core-Form, Mr S and a union official approached the site gate on 1 October 2019, during which Mr S demanded the return of tools, equipment and a container that he claimed remained on site. His request was denied.

On 16 October 2019, a crowd gathered at the entrance, including Mr S and the CFMMEU State Secretary, Andrew Sutherland. Mr Sutherland was wearing Union branded clothing and was in possession of a red Union flag. Members of the crowd held up signs with phrases including “PAY UR BILLS, STOP RIPPING OFF SUBBIES, and JOB DONE, WHERES THE MONEY.”

Some of the protesters used a megaphone to lead other protesters in various chants, including:

“Pay your bills. Pay your bills! Pay your bills! Pay your bills, Joe!”; “Sell your Porsche”; “Sell the car”; and “What do we want? Bills paid! When do we want it? Now!”.

Other incidents that occurred during the protest included:

  • Yelling at a female Trades Assistant where’s your boots?”; “where’s your hard hat?”, “get off site”; and “where are your safety boots”; over about a five-second period, as well as chanting “pay your bills”; “joe’s a grub, grubby, grub, grub” over about a 15 second period.

  • Preventing a vehicle driven by a painting contractor from entering the site, thereby delaying the delivery of painting supplies for over 19 minutes.

In determining appropriate penalties, Justice O’Sullivan noted, “This is the fifth time Mr Sutherland has engaged in behaviour which contravenes industrial legislation”.

He imposed a penalty on the official amounting to $38,000 and a penalty of $189,000 on the CFMMEU.

He further imposed penalties of $25,000 on Mr S, and $132,000 on the contractor, Core-Form, noting, “In all the circumstances, I find the contravening conduct by Mr S and by Core-Form was objectively serious”.

Australian Building and Construction Commissioner v Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (The 250 East Terrace Case) [2022] FCA 760 (1 July 2022)

For questions about industrial action, union right of entry, or other employment questions, please contact Dean Cameron at Workforce Advisory Lawyers – We Know Employment Law on 1300 WAL LAW, 0417 622 178 or via email to

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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