The Australian Building and Construction Commission has commenced legal proceedings against the CEPU and a site delegate over allegations workers were deliberately delayed at the Cairns Convention Centre redevelopment because they were not members of the union.

The ABCC alleges Mitchell Brown, who was employed by Lendlease as the union site delegate, repeatedly stopped the workers from carrying out a routine drilling task, resulting in considerable delays, because they were not members of the CEPU.   

What was estimated to be a one-hour job as part of the $176 million centre expansion took two days for the workers to complete due to Mr Brown’s repeated demands to stop work.

It’s also alleged Mr Brown falsely told the workers, including a trainee, and their employer that everyone working on the site needed to be a union member.  

During his interactions with the workers over several days, Mr Brown repeatedly asked the workers to join the CEPU and said words to the effect of “By the end of this site you’ll be joining the union”.  

In a meeting with the workers’ employer, Mr Brown said that all workers at the site needed to join the union, saying words to the effect:

“This is a union site. Everyone at the site needs to be in the union. Look, I just want members. Join the club. Make the job run smoothly”

“This is a government site. It is expected that all the workers on the site are union”.

Following the meeting between the employer and Mr Brown, the workers undertook their designated work without interference from Mr Brown. 

On 8 September 2020, Mr Brown approached the workers who were sitting in the lunchroom.  He again asked the workers if they were going to join the CEPU. In a conversation with the workers, Mr Brown said words to the effect of:

“well, if you want it to continue like this, you’ve got your forms”

 “… Because you weren’t a part of the EBA on site, we had slipped one through to the keeper"

I’ll be so happy once you sign up, it’ll be a win in my book…”

“I don’t care if you leave the union after this job, but we need members for this…”

Following this conversation with Mr Brown, the workers joined the CEPU, advising their employer they felt pressured to do so.

The ABCC is alleging Mr Brown and the CEPU engaged in multiple contraventions of sections 346 and 349 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) in the period from 27 August 2020 and 8 September 2020.

The maximum penalty for each contravention of the Fair Work Act 2009 is $63,000 for a body corporate and $12,600 for an individual.

 Note: All employees and contractors have the right to join or not join a union. This is called freedom of association. It can be unlawful for workers to be pressured by a union or by their employer to make a decision about joining, not joining or leaving a union.