The Federal Court has penalised the CFMMEU and its officials $75,600 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 CFMMEU officials, Paul Tzimas and Ron Buckley 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 Mr Tzimas and Mr Buckley had contravened the Fair Work Act by acting in an improper manner while exercising rights to enter site under the Act.
Mr Buckley’s abusive comments in the aftermath of those events to the effect that the police were on John Holland’s payroll, had been exhibiting corruption at its finest and had sided with Mr Drury in defending a tyrant went beyond that which can be accepted.
In relation to Mr Tzimas, the Court ruled:
a direct allegation that Mr Drury, 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” ..
The Court penalised the CFMMEU $63,000, Mr Tzimas $8,800 and Mr Buckley $3,780 (suspended for a period of 2 years).
The ABCC Commissioner has filed an appeal to the Full Court of the Federal Court against the judgment. The grounds of appeal include that the penalties imposed were manifestly inadequate.