Melbourne company and director penalised for breaching freedom of association

Melbourne painting and decorating firm Arteam, along with its director Michael Hanna, have been penalised a total of $20,000 for attempting to force a worker to join the CFMEU.

Mr Hanna admitted to sending a text message to workers on 11 March 2014 stating that they must have valid union memberships before starting work at two Melbourne projects where Arteam had been engaged. Mr Hanna sent a further text message reinforcing this statement on 27 March 2014.

On 30 March 2014, a worker informed Mr Hanna that he had obtained some fact sheets from the Fair Work Ombudsman website about freedom of association which advised that it was his right to choose whether or not he joined a union. Despite this conversation, the following day Mr Hanna told the worker that the CFMEU could close the site and prevent others from working if the employee refused to pay union membership fees. As a result, the worker left the site and did not perform any work.

In handing down today’s penalty, Justice Tracey said it was important that penalties acted as an effective deterrent for other employers in the industry.

“There are thousands of small contractors involved in the construction industry. Many are, potentially, susceptible to pressure to require employees to join a union, fearing that if they do not do so they will not be engaged to work on commercial construction sites,” Justice Tracey said.

His Honour found that the contraventions were evidence of the culture that exists within parts of the construction industry.

 “Mr Hanna had become immersed in the culture of at least some commercial construction sites on which compulsory union membership was accepted by both employers and employees,” Justice Tracey said.

“Mr Hanna had not familiarised himself with the relevant provisions of the Act. It is, perhaps, surprising that, despite working in the construction industry for some 11 years at the time of the contraventions, Mr Hanna had remained ignorant about the laws protecting freedom of association and had not made enquiries when [the worker] told him that he was not obliged to be a member of the CFMEU.”

Mr Hanna was penalised a total of $2,400 while Arteam was penalised a total of $17,600 for the contraventions which occurred on 11 March and 27 March 2014.

FWBC Director Nigel Hadgkiss said employers must respect workers’ rights.

“Workers are free to choose whether they wish to join a union or not. Australian employers cannot discriminate against their workers based on their union status regardless of whether they choose to be a union member or whether they choose to be a non-member. It’s important that all employers respect the decisions their workers make with regard to exercising their lawful workplace rights.

The CFMEU and one of its representatives, Godwin Farrugia, are also listed as respondents in this matter. However, the CFMEU and Mr Farrugia are defending the allegations against them and  a trial will  take place in 2017.

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