The CFMEU and 19 of its officials have been penalised AU$817,500 (£462,000) for their “deliberate, flagrant and systematic” campaign aimed at forcing the Brisbane sites’ head contractor to sign an agreement.
In its judgment, the federal court “[made] it clear that coercion and intimidation contrary to law will not be tolerated and will be the subject of significant sanctions”.
“This was a protracted campaign orchestrated by repeat offenders intended to force the company to sign a CFMEU enterprise agreement,” said Justice Rangiah. “The penalties issued today by the Federal Court send a strong message that coercive and intimidatory behaviour will not be tolerated.”
Australian Building & Construction Commission commissioner Stephen McBurney said: “The sustained campaign on the head contractor impacted important major projects and risked the livelihoods of those who wanted to work.” He added: “The level of intimidation directed at both the head contractor and the workers is alarming.”
Work stoppages took place over several months in 2013 at two construction sites – the AU$777m Enoggera Army Barracks and the AU$60m QUT Kelvin Grove Campus. The industrial action continued until the head contractor signed the CFMEU enterprise agreement.
Union officials at the QUT site stood in front of cars and prevented workers who wanted to work from accessing the site. They held up signs labelling the workers “gutless grubs” “scabs” and “dogs”.
In November 2012, the CFMEU published an article referring to the head contractor as “the last major tier one builder to knock over” in terms of signing a CFMEU enterprise agreement.
When work first stopped at the QUT site on 8 March 2013, CFMEU assistant state secretary Jade Ingham warned the head contractor’s operations manager: “this is just the start of it, the sooner you sign the agreement, the sooner it will stop”.
At a meeting of workers on 7 November 2013, after a further stoppage of work, some workers raised the prospect of returning to work with Ingham, who responded with words to the effect “Look, I’m running this meeting, keep quiet”. The workers left the site on 7 November and did not return until 20 December 2013.