The Federal Court has today penalised the CFMMEU and two of its officials $123,500 as a result of unlawfully coercing workers to join and pay membership fees to the union and coercing subcontractors to pay “union rates” during construction work on Melbourne University’s college site in Parkville in 2016.
The Court found in March 2016, CFMMEU site delegate Mario Raspudic prevented two subcontractor employees from working on the site unless they were paid up members of the union.
Mr Raspudic told a worker engaged to perform rigging work that he couldn’t work at the site until he renewed his CFMMEU membership, which had lapsed. He also told a second employee of the rigging company that he would have to join the union to work on the site.
When the worker replied that he didn’t have to become a member of the union to work on the site, a scuffle occurred in which Mr Raspudic attempted to grab a laptop computer out of the worker’s hands.
Ultimately, both workers paid fees to join the CFMMEU in order to perform work on the site.
CFMMEU official Mark Travers later attended the project site where he told the subcontractor that it was a “union site” and the company should pay “union rates”. Mr Travers threatened that if union rates weren’t paid, the CFMMEU would take action to stop the subcontractor from working on site.
The Court found Mr Travers’ threat was designed to give the subcontractor no practical choice but to comply with his demand to pay “union rates”.
The Court found the conduct of the CFMMEU and the two officials contravened the adverse action and coercion provisions of the Fair Work Act.
The CFMMEU was penalised $110,000, Mr Raspudic $7,500 and Mr Travers $6,000. Both officials had personal payment orders imposed on them – requiring them to pay their own penalties.
The Federal Court judgment delivered by Justice Snaden said:
“The union on any view, has an appalling record of contravening provisions of the FW Act (and its predecessors), particularly those that are aimed at protecting the right of employees to not join industrial associations.”
“I regard the Union’s conduct—viewing it, as I do, against the backdrop of the Union’s appalling history of statutory contravention—as very much of the gravest, most serious kind. As the Union has been told time and time again, “no ticket, no start” is a grotesque relic of a long-bygone era that has no place in Australia’s modern industrial relations landscape.”
“In the Union’s case, that history is nothing short of astounding. Since 2003, it has been found, by this court and others, to have contravened industrial laws more than 160 times.”
“The Union has paid a significant price over a long period for having intimidated or coerced others into complying with its demands. That it would genuflect toward those same thuggish instincts in spite of that history—even when it believed that it had the law on its side—beggars belief.”
The judgment continued:
“If ever there were an industry in which special or innovative measures to ensure compliance with industrial laws were warranted, it is the construction industry. In the absence of regulatory change aimed at addressing the Union’s apparent indifference to the unlawfulness committed in its name, the only obvious way to effect a change of heart on its part is to focus upon those at the proverbial coalface.”
In ordering a Personal Payment Order against Mr Raspudic, the Court observed:
“Raspudic has added his name to the long list of officials who have willingly signed on to the Union’s unconscionable war against free association on Australian building sites. It is important that the penalties that are imposed upon him are fashioned at a level that is sufficient to deter repetition of the conduct not only by him but also by the network of other delegates and officers of the Union who might themselves be minded to enforce its archaic “no ticket, no start” philosophy.
The judgment also described Mr Travers actions as:
“… wholly inappropriate. Rather than lawfully vindicate the rights that he thought were being violated, he preferred instead to react with threats and aggression. That is not the first time that the Union has wandered down that road; nor the second, third, or even twentieth. On the contrary, it appears something of a go-to industrial tactic. The Union must pay a heavy price for its failure to learn the lessons of its history.
ABCC Commissioner Stephen McBurney said the imposition of personal payment orders on Mr Travers and Mr Raspudic were designed to deter repetition of the contraventions evident in this case.
“Mr Raspudic’s actions were especially concerning given he was the site occupational health and safety representative,” Mr McBurney said. “In that role, he was responsible for conducting site inductions to ensure the safety of workers. He took advantage of this role to unlawfully enforce compulsory union membership.”
“Closed shops” and ‘no ticket, no start’ policies are unlawful in Australia and the ABCC stands ready to assist any worker who feels pressured to join or not join a union.”
“Regrettably for the construction industry, there is no contrition, no remorse, and no demonstrable intent by the CFMMEU to change course from a path of deliberate and repeated abuse of workplace laws. The very rights of workers they seek to represent are being undermined by unlawful conduct of this nature.”