CFMEU fined $45,000 after attempting to coerce builder into paying its employees’ union fees

The Federal Court has fined the CFMEU and its officials Adam Olsen and Kane Pearson a total of $45,600 after Mr Olsen attempted to coerce a Northern Territory building company into paying union memberships on behalf of its workers. The Court also found that both officials misused their right of entry permits after entering the Darwin building site on two occasions in June 2013.

The Court found that Mr Olsen threatened the building company with words to the effect that if the company had six or eight or ten members on site that were part of the CFMEU, then the next time the CFMEU officials came up to Darwin they would focus on other jobs around town and would not focus on the safety issues relating to the company’s sites.

In his decision handed down on Friday afternoon, His Honour Justice Mansfield said: “The general picture is that he (Pearson), and others of the Union largely under his direction or leadership, entered the Site not for the legitimate purpose or the legitimate exercise of their right of entry but to indicate the extent to which the union could, if so minded, disrupt the efficient progress of a building site … That conduct was part of a process to support the threat made to [the building company] on 19 June 2013 either to procure its employees on the Site to join the Union, or to pay membership fees to the Union on behalf of its employees. It was a serious departure from the conduct which the right of entry permitted. It involved not simply Pearson himself, but Pearson as the leader of a group of Union employees, supported by the Divisional Branch Secretary, Ravbar.”

The court said of the CFMEU: “As with Pearson and Olsen, there is no suggestion of penitence, corrective action, or cooperation in the investigation by the Director. There is clearly, as other judges have recorded, a strong record of non-compliance on the part of the union through its officers with provisions of industrial relations legislation…” His Honour noted that the CFMEU conference happening in Darwin at the time was in part a recruitment drive. “…The conference of the Union in Darwin, at least substantially, was intended to operate as a vehicle for seeking additional membership of the Union in Darwin, and from the beginning involved the visitation of a number of sites including the [company’s] Site.”

In the liability decision handed down on 13 March 2015, Justice Mansfield said “In my view, the purpose or one of the purposes of that visit by the CFMEU officials was not, as the notices of entry has indicated, to have discussions with employees on the Site. It was to exercise some “muscle” as a step towards procuring an increment in membership of the CFMEU”.

FWBC Director Nigel Hadgkiss said coercion was a scourge on Australia’s building and construction industry. “I regret that we have seen an increase in coercion on building and construction sites in recent times. No one should be coerced, whether they be a worker, employer, union official or union. I would like to commend the building company in this case, who reported this incident to FWBC very quickly, as is required under the Building Code 2013. Reporting it early gave FWBC the best chance of conducting a thorough investigation,” Mr Hadgkiss said.

The court fined the CFMEU $35,000, Mr Pearson $6000 and Mr Olsen $4,600.

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