Queensland construction workers suffer hefty fines for engaging in unlawful action

Queensland construction workers suffer hefty fines for engaging in unlawful action

Sixty-four (64) Queensland construction workers have suffered hits to their hip-pockets following a recent decision handed down in the Federal Circuit Court. All 64 workers were penalised $1,750 for engaging in a mass walkout from the FV1 – Stage 2 construction project in the inner Brisbane suburb of Fortitude Valley in September 2018.

On the morning of 11 September 2018, two CFMMEU representatives met with the employees on-site prior to them starting work for the day. A number of concerns were voiced at the meeting, including the removal of union flags, people working on rostered days off, and personality clashes with the project’s safety officer.

Following the meeting, all 64 employees, who were employed by various subcontractors on the project, did not return to work and left the site in a mass walkout. They remained off work for the rest of the day.

During the court proceedings, all 64 employees admitted to engaging in unlawful industrial action contravening section 48 of the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Act 2016. Each of the 64 workers was fined $1,750 for their unlawful conduct.

In a somewhat scathing decision, Federal Circuit Judge M. Jarrett commented:

“There has not been … any express statement of remorse or contrition by any of the respondents. The respondents have not apologised for their unlawful conduct”.

“Fixing a penalty, in this case, requires the Court to ensure that the relevant purposes of the Building and Construction Industry Act are met. The main object of the Act is to provide an improved workplace relations framework for building work to ensure that building work is carried out fairly, efficiently and productively … That objective is achieved by, amongst other things, promoting respect for the rule of law, ensuring respect for the rights of building industry participants and ensuring that building industry participants are accountable for their unlawful conduct”.

The ABCC applauded the decision to penalise the workers stating that the judgement highlighted the penalties that can and will be imposed by the courts against employees who choose to engage in unlawful industrial action.

Matt Keller, the acting ABCC Commissioner, stated,

“In this instance, 64 employees of various subcontractors decided to engage in unlawful industrial action following a meeting with two CFMMEU representatives instead of resorting to lawful means to resolve their issues. The ABCC will continue to ensure all building participants are accountable for unlawful conduct on Australia’s building and construction projects”.

The case is significant, being one of several in 2019 where the ABCC has sought fines against individual workers rather than pursuing action against the union or its officials.

Australian Building and Construction Commission vs Jason Bray and Ors QUD430/2019  

For queries about union activity or meetings on-site, 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 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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