A building and construction union protest held for several weeks outside the Myer Emporium work site in Melbourne was not a blockade and was therefore not illegal, the Construction Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) has told the Victorian Supreme Court.
Peter Morrissey, SC, for the CFMEU, made the claim in response to court proceedings brought against the union by the Victorian government and construction giant Grocon Pty Ltd after hundreds of union members continued to blockade Grocon’s Myer Emporium site for several weeks during late August and early September in spite of a court order preventing them from obstructing the site.
Morrissey says it could not be proven that Grocon workers were actually denied access to the site.
He says that up to four tunnels provided access to the site and that Grocon workers did not try to gain access because the company did not tell them to.
“No one, let alone the CFMEU, prevented free access. The relevant employees did not try, because Grocon did not tell them to try” Morrissey says.
“All charges must fail”.
But Michael McDonald, SC, for Grocon, says the orders required free access to Grocon sites,and that overwhelming video footage and public comments by the union officials demonstrated clearly that CMFEU intended to prevent this from occurring.
Whilst the court orders were filed for civil proceedings, the union should be convicted on criminal contempt charges because their breaches were deliberate and in defiance of court rulings, McDonald says.
Morrissey’s statement about workers not being prevented access to the site come in spite of claims by Grocon employees that they had been abused, threatened and intimidated during the action
Aside from the civil proceedings, Grocon has launched separate action against the CMFEU suing the union for $10.5 million in damages it claims to have lost as a result of the blockade.
In addition to these actions, Fair Work Building and Construction, the federal industrial relations watchdog for the construction industry, commenced civil action against the CMFEU, seven of its officials and three other union representatives earlier this month for contraventions of the Fair Work Act with regard to the dispute.