Right of Entry breaches and false corruption claims cost CFMMEU and officials who occupied an exclusion zone
The CFMMEU, and two of its officials, have received significant fines for breaching right of entry provisions and falsely claiming a safety inspector and police officers on site were corrupt and receiving payments from the head contractor on a Victorian civil construction project.
The contraventions in the case occurred at the West Gate Tunnel Project in Victoria in December 2019. Two Victorian union officials, Paul Tzimas and Ron Buckley, entered the site causing disruption to the scheduled lift of five bridge beams weighing 16 tonnes over 3 and 4 December 2019.
Upon entering the site, both officials occupied an exclusion zone, thereby rendering it unsafe for the head contractor to lift the bridge beams in place. Despite repeated requests to leave the area, they refused to do so, resulting in calls to the state safety regulator, WorkSafe, and to Victorian police in an attempt to resolve the impasse.
After inspecting the relevant area, the WorkSafe inspector deemed that there was no imminent risk to the health and safety of workers that justified the works being stopped. The inspector then requested the officials to leave the exclusion zone to allow work to continue.
In response, the officials accused the inspector of being a “lap dog”, “corrupt”, “incompetent”, and a “disgrace”.
Similarly, they also accused Victorian Police of being on the head contractor’s “payroll”, “incompetent”, and displaying “corruption at its finest”.
In its decision, the Federal Court ruled that both officials had acted in an improper manner while exercising their rights to enter and thereby contravened the Fair Work Act 2009. The Court noted in regard to Mr Buckley that his “abusive comments in the aftermath of those events to the effect that the police were on John Holland’s payroll, had been exhibiting corruption at its finest and had sided with Mr Drury in defending a tyrant went beyond that which can be accepted”.
Similarly, in regard to Mr Tzimas, the Court noted: “a direct allegation that Mr Drury, a Worksafe Inspector, was willing to risk the safety of employees as a result of direct corruption, cannot be characterised as other than a grossly wrongful instance of an official ‘acting in an improper manner'”.
Penalties imposed by the Court, in this case, totalled $63,000 for the CFMMEU, $8,800 for Mr Tzimas and $3,780 for Mr Buckley (suspended for a period of two years).
In an interesting development, the ABCC filed an appeal against the judgement, arguing that the penalised imposed were manifestly inadequate.
For questions about unions, safety, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.