The Federal Court has imposed penalties totalling $101,500 against the AMWU, CFMEU and AWU and three of their officials for their involvement in unlawful industrial action at a construction project at the Australian Paper Mill in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley.
The unlawful action stopped work at the Mill’s de-inking project for three days in March 2014, continuing on the third day in defiance of orders from the Fair Work Commission that industrial action stop.
Whilst the officials contended the stoppages related to safety and therefore did not constitute unlawful industrial action, the Court found that “[t]hat view was a mistaken one”.
The Court found instead that by involving themselves in the action, the officials “took advantage of the employees’ unlawful conduct to strengthen their hands in their negotiations with the companies”.
In the judgment, Justice Jessup singled out the CFMEU for what he described as its “appalling” prior record of non-compliance with industrial laws.
Justice Jessup noted the “normalisation of contraventions” by the CFMEU “has been the subject of comment by Judges on so many previous occasions that any further observation on my part here would amount to little more than stating the obvious”.
His Honour continued:
…if there is any union in the industrial universe which should be acutely aware of the importance of understanding the boundaries of lawful conduct in the prosecution of disputes, it is this one. Self-evidently, it does not care to do so.
The CFMEU was penalised $45,000, the AMWU $25,000 and the AWU $20,000.
Officials Toby Thornton (CFMEU), Steven Dodd (AMWU) and Jeff Sharp (AWU) were penalised a total of $11,500.
ABCC Commissioner Nigel Hadgkiss said the judgment was another reminder that industry participants cannot pick and choose when and what laws they comply with.
“The Court reaffirmed that unions have a responsibility to assist members to deal with disputes – but they must do so within the boundaries of the law,” Mr Hadgkiss said.
“Resorting to unlawful action is not an appropriate response to workplace disputes.”
“What is most concerning is that the union officials continued their participation in the unlawful action in defiance of a Fair Work Commission order. This demonstrates an alarming attitude of disregard for the law.”
For more information see the legal case summary