Australia’s biggest construction union and 19 of its officials have been fined A$817,500 (US$646,500) after they shut down two major Brisbane work sites in 2013 in what a judge called a "deliberate, flagrant and systematic" campaign of intimidation to force the contractor to acquiesce to its demands.
The federal court heard how members of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) held up signs labelling workers who crossed their pickets at contractor John Holland’s sites as "gutless grubs" "scabs" "dogs" and "weak as p*ss".
The court ruling on 9 March drew praise from Australia’s small business minister Craig Laundy, who accused the CFMEU of "blatant lawlessness" and "economic sabotage", claiming that CFMEU-related unions had been fined A$13m in recent years.
Also pleased was the Australian Building and Construction Commission, whose commissioner Stephen McBurney said: "The level of intimidation directed at both the head contractor and the workers is alarming."
As well as the union’s fine of A$551,900 for 26 breaches under the Fair Work Act (FWA), union officials including secretary were hit with fines ranging from A$37,500 to A$3,600, taking the total to A$817,500.
The judgement relates to work stoppages over several months in 2013 at two construction sites of John Holland Queensland: the A$777m Enoggera Army Barracks and the A$60m QUT Kelvin Grove Campus. The industrial action continued until the head contractor signed the CFMEU enterprise agreement.
Federal Court Justice Rangiah said the union’s conduct was "deliberate, flagrant and systematic", with "no evidence of any attempts by the CFMEU to take corrective steps to ensure that [CFMEU officials] and agents comply with the law".
"The behaviour of the respondents who contravened s343 of the FWA was confronting, threatening and intimidatory," the judge said.
"Their conduct involved a sustained and flagrant disregard for the workplace rights and freedom of association guaranteed under the FWA."
He said the union argued its conduct was a "legitimate industrial objective", but added that under the FWA, "particular conduct is made unlawful, regardless of whether or not the contravener is pursuing what it perceives as a legitimate industrial objective".
Image: Members of the CFMEU at a recent rally (CFMEU)