Few could doubt the passion and conviction with which members of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) have protested over the past couple of weeks during their blockade of the Myer Emporium site in Melbourne and other sites around Australia.
Moreover, if some of the claims outlined in a union fact sheet regarding the dispute are indeed true, then the CFMEU would be right to stand up and say that the situation is not acceptable. Within legal means, unions have an obligation not to accept anything less than best practice regarding the safety of their members.
Among other things, the fact sheet alleged that the person Grocon claims to be the Occupational Health and Safety Representative for the workers is a bouncer from nightclubs in Melbourne with no building industry experience; the individual whom Grocon claims is representing works on industrial matters is the son of the company’s Workplace Relations Manager and genuine safety and workplace concerns raised by workers are not being properly presented to their employer.
That, however, is about where the defensibility of the CFMEU’s actions stops.
Never mind the fact that some of the positions taken by the union were open to question – its assertion of a basic ‘right’ to put union posters up in company-owned lunch sheds is surely open to question – but the way in which it conducted itself was disgraceful.
According to reports, non-striking workers were subjected to threats, harassment and abuse.
Within legal bounds, the rights of workers who choose to participate in industrial action must be respected, but just as important are the rights of those choosing not to participate. Those workers are surely entitled to attend their place of work and conduct their normal duties without interference, and it is a pity this right was apparently forgotten.
More broadly, there is the manner in which the CFMEU brushed off an order from the Supreme Court to desist from its blockade. No organisation, union or otherwise, occupies any form of privileged moral or legal position that places it above the law, and the way in which the union ignored the order demonstrated a lack of regard for proper legal conduct.
Grocon may or may not be faultless and the union may or may not have some legitimate cause for complaint, but by all accounts, the way in which the CFMEU has conducted itself throughout the past few weeks leaves a lot to be desired. The precedent such behaviour sets is concerning.