The Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (more commonly referred to as the CFMEU) are the predominant trade union in the building and construction industry, particularly visible in high-rise construction across all Australian states and territories. In the last thirty years, they have grown considerably through amalgamation with other prominent unions.

Their industrial coverage in building covers virtually all trades and labourers with the following general exception of electricians, plumbing, fire, HVAC and metal trade workers (fitters, boilermakers, etc.). They are less prominent across civil construction projects where they compete with the Australian Workers Union’s (AWU) significant history in that sector.

In Queensland, the Union seeks significantly higher rates of pay and conditions than the Modern Award through industrial bargaining with principal contractors and prominent subcontractors to sign up for enterprise bargaining agreements (EBAs). A notable feature of the EBAs is the inclusion of a set industry-wide RDO calendar comprising 26 RDOs per year with fixed breaks at Easter, Melbourne Cup and the Christmas New Year period.

The Union structure incorporates both elected officials as well as appointed delegates. The current Qld/NT branch is headed by Mr Michael Ravbar, with his deputy Mr Jade Ingham managing day-to-day operations.

The Union has an extremely varied approach to dealing with companies, particularly those operating in the ‘Union EBA sector’ (not clearly defined by the Union or the current market forces) without a current signed union enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA). Under no circumstances should a contractor sign an EBA with the CFMEU without first seeking external advice. Indeed, if there is contact from a union official, it is highly recommended to seek advice from an industry specialist.

The Union’s activities, individual personalities and behaviour vary significantly from State to State or at times from Street to Street.

If you are a Principal contractor, it is imperative to regularly undertake auditing of subcontractors to ensure they are fully compliant with all industrial requirements and legislation.


The modern ‘industrial’ landscape continues to be underpinned by the management of WHS issues in the workplace. The rise of the ABCC within the building and construction industry and significant Federal Court penalties for unlawful industrial action or unlawful entry year after year have caused a move toward safety concerns.

The Union has always held a legitimate safety role within the industry as advisors and advocates for workers with concerns.

Any modern conversation involving CFMEU activity must include a detailed and diligent focus on safety issues. Compliance costs in working hours, penalties and lost productivity may be high in response to some reasonable and some alleged extreme or likely obstructive safety concerns.

Directors, Principle Contractors and subcontractors must maintain a thorough understanding and day-to-day management of compliance issues from small issues like a can of WD-40 or PPE to high-risk activities.

Maintaining a reasonable centred and informed view can be difficult in a changing workplace environment.

For queries about the CFMEU or any other employment matters, please contact Dean Cameron at Workforce Advisory Lawyers – We Know Employment Law on 0417 622 178, 1300 WAL LAW 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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