Far away from the Myer Emporium site in Melbourne – the site where the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) has made national headlines for continuing a blockade against construction giant Grocon in defiance of a Supreme Court injunction – the new national building regulator has scored a significant win against the CMFEU in a different case involving illegal picketing and other alleged unlawful activity in Western Australia.
Earlier this week, the Federal Court in Perth ordered the CFMEU and its WA assistant secretary Joe McDonald to pay penalties totaling $200,000 plus Fair Work Building and Construction (FWBC) costs over its role in instituting a targeted industrial campaign against Diploma Construction (WA) Pty Ltd, the head contractor involved in the Queens Riverside Apartment project in Perth.
The win comes at an important time for FWBC, which replaced the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) earlier this year.
As the Grocon blockade rolls on in Melbourne, building and industry organisations continue to express concern that the new building regulator does not have sufficient power to maintain law and order within the construction industry.
FWBC chief executive Leigh Johns condemned the union’s action with regard to the Western Australian case, saying that illegal conduct will not be tolerated.
“The CFMEU’s campaign of strikes, threats, picketing and blockading was unlawful and has no place in Australia’s construction industry,” Johns says. “The integrity of the bargaining process is paramount. FWBC will fully investigate and prosecute any coercive behaviour that is designed to force a party to make an agreement. (Last Tuesday’s) result has held the CFMEU and Mr McDonald accountable for their actions – to the tune of $200,000.”
The case related to conduct on the part of both McDonald and the CFMEU in organising two strikes at the aforementioned project site in February and June, 2011.
The strikes resulted in the CFMEU and McDonald being held in contempt of court because an earlier court order had prohibited them from engaging or being involved in any industrial action involving the head contractor (Diploma) at the site.
Both McDonald and the CFMEU also owned up to trying to coerce Diploma to enter into a building agreement through the use of threats, a picket and a blockade in June and July, 2011.
Johns acknowledged that the February strike was taken in protest over alleged sham contracting arrangements – a complaint with regard to which the FWBC subsequently investigated and secured a $48,000 penalty against the company.
He says, however, that this was no excuse as allegations of sham contracting should be referred to the regulator rather than rather being resolved through unlawful action which could lead workers, unions and union officials to court.
“FWBC is the industrial relations regulator for the construction industry and we are here to ensure the rights of everyone in the industry are respected,” Johns says.