The Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) has filed an appeal against what it says was a “manifestly inadequate” fine issued to the CFMMEU over false corruption allegations.
The Federal Court had fined the CFMMEU $63,000 and two of its organisers $8,800 and $3,780 (suspended), respectively, after the officials were found to have accused a WorkSafe Inspector and Victoria Police officers of being “lap dogs” and “corrupt” during a critical work disruption at the $6.7 billion West Gate Tunnel Project in December 2019.
Works had been scheduled to lift and install five bridge beams weighing 16 tonnes each to construct a bridge between Millers Road and Kororoit Creek Road in Brooklyn, west of Melbourne.
The road had been closed from 9.30pm to 4.00am to allow the works to occur on 3 and 4 December 2019.
The bridge works were unable to proceed after the two CFMMEU officials entered the project and positioned themselves in an exclusion zone, making it unsafe for the head contractor to lift the bridge beams into place.
Despite repeated requests from project management, the officials refused to leave. The head contractor called WorkSafe and Victoria Police to attend the site to resolve the dispute.
The WorkSafe Inspector found there was no imminent risk to the health or safety of workers that would justify works stopping. When the WorkSafe Inspector asked the officials to leave the exclusion zone and allow work to continue they accused him of being a “lap dog”, “corrupt”, “incompetent” and a “disgrace”.
The CFMMEU officials also accused Victoria Police officers of being on the head contractor’s “payroll”, acting as “lap dogs” and demonstrating “corruption at its finest”.
The Federal Court ruled that both officials had contravened the Fair Work Act by acting in an improper manner while exercising rights to enter site under the Act.
In relation to the verbal attack on the WorkSafe inspector, the Court ruled:
“a direct allegation that…a WorkSafe Inspector, was willing to risk the safety of employees as a result of corruption, cannot be characterised as other than a grossly wrongful instance of an official ‘acting in an improper manner’.”
ABCC takes court action over crane stoppages
Earlier, the ABCC confirmed it had taken court action against the CFMMEU and four of its representatives in relation to work stoppages by crane crew workers across three Brisbane construction projects in January 2021.
Each of the CFMMEU representatives is alleged to have threatened, or to have organised, the work stoppages as part of efforts to coerce the crane company and its labour hire provider to transfer the union’s site delegate from the Brisbane Racecourse project to the role of health and safety representative at the Cross River Rail project.
The ABCC is alleging the CFMMEU and its four representatives contravened s 52(c) of the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Act 2016 by either organising or threatening to organise action with intent to coerce the crane company and its labour hire provider to transfer a CFMMEU delegate to the Cross River Rail project in the role of health and safety representative.
The role of the ABCC in acting as a ‘tough cop on the beat’ for Australia’s building and construction industry is likely to feature as an important policy difference between the major political parties at the upcoming 2022 Federal Election. As it has in previous election cycles, AREEA will campaign for the retention of the ABCC and defend its critical role in upholding lawful and productive practices in the construction sector.