The Federal Circuit Court has imposed total penalties of $35,700 against the CFMMEU and its representative Mark O’Brien and former official Michael Myles, after workers at a South Brisbane apartment site downed their tools in response to a visit by Queensland Government officers.

Hutchinson Builders was also penalised $1,200 for contravening strike pay provisions in the Fair Work Act after they made payments to each of their 10 employees who engaged in the unlawful industrial action.

The penalties follow an incident on 9 December 2013 where two inspectors from the Queensland Government’s then Building Construction Compliance Branch (BCCB) attended the $53 million Arena Apartment’s site to conduct an audit.

During the inspectors’ visit Mr Myles entered the site and directed a number of the employees to stop work and go to the lunch room.

When approached by employees of Hutchinson Builders about his presence on the site, Mr Myles said words to the effect: “This is what we do if these kind of people [BCCB inspectors] are on the job…our boys in the shed until they leave…end of story.” 

Mr Myles also told the team leader from Hutchinson words to the effect: “You’ve got to understand when they come here we’re going to pull everybody off the job”.

Mr Myles and Mr O’Brien addressed the employees in the lunchroom and following the meeting employees returned to work.

Mr Myles and Mr O’Brien then met with representatives of Hutchinson Builders who were told “if they [BCCB] step foot on any of your projects, we will be there within five minutes flat and we will be stopping the job and that’s a nationwide directive from the top”. 

In handing down the penalty judgment, Judge Jarrett said of the CFMMEU’s conduct:

“it is clear the [CFMMEU] has an abysmal history of non-compliance with industrial laws.”
“The conduct in these proceedings was plainly deliberate and was aimed at preventing or hindering the inspectors from the BCCB from conducting their work.”
“It was an attempt to thwart officers from the BCCB from carrying out their duties and it was a form of protest against [Hutchinson Builders’] conduct in inviting the BCCB to conduct the audit.”
“the relevant industrial action here did not arise out of any misplaced sense that there was some safety issue that needed to be investigated or other industrial issue that existed between the employer and its employees.”

ABCC Commissioner Stephen McBurney said the decision sent a clear message that the courts will not tolerate unlawful behavior aimed at obstructing government officers conducting their duties. 

“The unlawful industrial action organised by the CFMMEU was motivated by a deliberate attempt to hinder State Government officers from undertaking their duties,” Mr McBurney said.

“This industrial action had nothing to do with safety and resulted in workers’ pay being deducted. It is difficult to comprehend how the actions of the CFMMEU could be seen to advance the interests of the workers.

“Hutchinson Builders contravened the Fair Work Act by paying strike pay. Their conduct undermined laws regulating industrial action. The ABCC will not hesitate pursuing employers who act unlawfully.”