Case name
Australian Building and Construction Commissioner v Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union & Ors
Known as
WGC Cranes Group
Commonwealth Courts Portal reference and link

NSD1792/2019

Applicant
Australian Building and Construction Commissioner
Respondent(s) at time of filing
  • CFMMEU
  • Simon Gutierrez
  • Gerasimos Danalis
  • Anthony Burke
  • Paul Byrnes
  • Jesse Strand
  • Rebel Hanlon
  • Robert Kera
Date filed
Alleged breach(es) at time of filing
Adverse action, Coercion
Status
Finalised
Date finalised
Summary at time of filing

The Federal Court today penalised the CFMMEU and two former officials $382,800 following unlawful conduct against mobile crane company WGC Cranes to pressure it to sign a CFMMEU enterprise agreement.

The judgment comes less than a month after the Federal Court penalised the CFMMEU and senior officials more than $1 million for contraventions against Sydney crane company Botany Cranes.

In October 2018 WGC’s cranes were prevented from operating at sites in Wollongong and at the Port Kembla Coal Terminal and its workers were threatened.

The company’s Wollongong depot was picketed by around 40 people waving CFMMEU banners and flags and a union vehicle was used to block cranes at a Port Kembla transport yard. The vehicle was only removed when NSW police attended the site.

Several WGC Cranes’ workers were subjected to abuse and intimidation and a worker’s photograph was posted by the union on its Facebook page without his consent and captioned with the definition of a scab.

The Court found: “Other users of Facebook posted derogatory comments beneath the photograph. Strike breakers were referred to in those comments as “grubs”, “leeches”, “maggots”, “dogs”, and worse.”

In commenting on the Facebook post Justice Katzmann said:

‘The Facebook post pilloried [the crane operator] for exercising his right to work.….the act of making the post was vengeful and motivated by [the crane operators’] lawful decision not to participate in the industrial action organised by the Union. Its evident purpose was to cause [the crane operator] to be ostracised by employees who did. It was a public humiliation, intended to shame him, a modern form of the ancient punishment, popular in the Middle Ages, of placing a miscreant in the village stocks where, unable to protect himself, he was exposed to prolonged abuse and/or assaults.

Justice Katzmann went on to say:

‘The contravention involving the Facebook post was both deliberate and premeditated….it exposed [the crane operator] to a risk of mental, if not also physical, harm.’

On 15 and 16 October, work was disrupted at the Port Kembla Coal Terminal when CFMMEU official Gerasimos Danalis entered restricted work areas while cranes were operating. Mr Danalis refused to follow safety procedures and ignored requests to leave the area. 

On the second day, Mr Danalis triggered an emergency stop button on a crane while it was operating causing it to come to a sudden stop.

The Court found Mr Danalis also made false allegations about ‘safety issues’ and persisted in raising sham safety claims.

The Court described the behaviour of Mr Danalis and fellow former official Simon Gutierezz as using bullying or stand over tactics of a similar nature to the Botany Cranes case.

In answering the question ‘Does the union have a culture of compliance?’ Justice Katzmann said:

‘…the Union has an appalling record of contravening industrial laws. It has frequently been excoriated in this Court for its recidivism… Further the Union’s overall record is indicative of an indifference to, if not a disdain for, the law. Simply put, the Union behaves as though it is above the law.

ABCC Commissioner Stephen McBurney said:

“Within the space of three weeks the Federal Court has penalised the CFMMEU almost $1.4 million for applying undue pressure against two crane companies to sign up to a union enterprise agreement, with a third matter still before the Court.

“This is part of a targeted campaign against mobile crane companies in NSW that has seen the union threaten and intimidate workers and picket companies trying to go about their business.

“The union officials in this case engaged in abusive, threatening and intimidatory conduct towards employees, both on site and on social media.

“It is unacceptable to expose any worker to the potential for mental harm through the misuse of its Facebook page.

“While Mr Danalis is to be commended for his contrition and remorse, there has been no apology, no contrition and no remorse from the union. There has been no corrective action taken, no retraining of its officials and no indication of any change in the union’s view it is above the law.” 

The Court imposed penalties of $364,000 against the CFMMEU, Mr Danalis was penalised $12,800 and Mr Gutierrez $6,000.

Penalties imposed on the CFMMEU and its officials are now $4.28 million in NSW and $12.8 million nationally since 2 December 2016.

Historical content

9 June 2021 - CFMMEU and former officials hit with $382,800 penalties for targeting crane company in Wollongong