March 2013 Industry Update
Quick guide to pickets and blockades
In the construction industry, a picket or blockade is the restriction of access to a building site, usually by a group of people, vehicles and/or barricades, as a means of stopping work, often to further the industrial agenda of the picketers or blockaders.
There have been several high-profile pickets and blockades in Victoria recently, which has made an article explaining FWBC’s role, timely.
FWBC covers larger-scale, commercial building projects, rather than single homes. The types of projects we regulate include public projects like hospitals and schools, infrastructure projects such as roads and water treatment plants as well as high rise apartment projects.
For residential sites the project needs to be greater than five single-dwellings to come within FWBC’s jurisdiction.
When is a picket or blockade unlawful industrial action?
If employees covered by a current enterprise agreement, picket or blockade a work site and therefore ‘restrict, limit or delay the performance of work’ they may be engaging in unlawful industrial action.
Unlawful industrial action breaches attract penalties of up to $10,200 for an individual and $51,000 for a corporation under the Fair Work Act 2009 (FW Act).
FWBC is responsible for investigating and prosecuting allegations of unlawful industrial action on Australian construction sites.
When is a picket or blockade coercion?
It is unlawful to coerce, or put pressure, on an employer to hire, or fire, a certain person or people, under the FW Act.
If a picket or blockade is being orchestrated for this purpose, coercion breaches may apply.
What else can FWBC do?
FWBC, or the employer, may apply to a court for an injunction to stop the individuals and/or union from blockading the site. This means that the court injunction prohibits certain people or organisations from engaging in the action. If they do so, they may be in contempt of court.
We have taken this action in the Werribee Water Treatment Plant blockade. On 14 February 2013, Federal Court Justice Marshall granted FWBC an injunction to prevent the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and its officials from participating in the blockade. FWBC can also apply to the court for a head contractor or subcontractors to be awarded damages as a result of losses incurred during a picket or blockade.
Site owners have the option of calling the local police force if they believe picketers and blockaders are trespassing. Trespass is a criminal offence and is investigated and prosecuted by the local police.
FWBC court cases
In September last year FWBC secured a $200,000 penalty plus costs against the WA CFMEU and its Assistant Secretary Joe McDonald for a targeted industrial campaign against a construction company. The unlawful action included strikes, threats, pickets and blockades.
FWBC has filed a further two matters relating to pickets and blockades which are currently before the courts. We have a case before the court relating to the CFMEU-Grocon dispute which involved picketing and blockading of Grocon building sites in Melbourne and another case which involved pickets and blockades on five major Victorian projects managed by construction company St Hilliers.
Fair Work Building Industry Inspectors are available seven-days-a-week to provide advice and assistance for anyone working in the construction industry. If you have concerns about picketing or blockading, or any other industrial relations issue on your construction site, you can call us on 1800 008 338.
FWBC can help you to assess the situation and provide advice about what you should do to comply with the law and avoid further conflict.
FWBC fact sheet - Coercion
FWBC fact sheet – Industrial action