‘s largest construction union has been hit with nearly $250,000 in fresh penalties, prompting a scathing courtroom rebuke over its long record of lawlessness and disregard for millions of dollars of members’ funds.
The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union and two of its officials, Joe Myles and Drew MacDonald, were found in the Federal Court to have deliberately and illegally disrupted concrete pours on the government-funded Regional Rail Link infrastructure project in Melbourne’s west during 2014.
Delivering the penalties this week in a lawsuit brought by the national construction watchdog, Federal Court judge Richard Tracey condemned the CFMEU’s repeated violations of workplace laws.
“The officials who constitute the councils of the CFMEU and those holding full-time office in the organisation are, or should be, aware of the many decisions in which the union has been found liable for contraventions of the act and related legislation,” Justice Tracey said.
“They are also aware, or should be aware, of the many judicial pronouncements about the gravity and unacceptability of this ongoing misconduct.
“They are, or should be, aware that millions of dollars of union funds, which could otherwise be used for the benefit of members, have had to be expended in paying penalties for these persistent contraventions.”
Earlier this month, CFMEU Victorian secretary John Setka addressed a large-scale union rally on Melbourne’s wharves, where he supported breaking the law in order to achieve industrial outcomes against bosses.
“Everything we have today, every single thing we have today, was won by breaking the law,” he said.
“For a number of years we have decided to take on these bad laws … if they are shit laws and they are designed to never let you win, why would you play by them?
“They might fine us millions of dollars, they might call us all sorts of things … but we will continue to win.
“That’s what all the money the unions have got is there for. Not to buy buildings, not to invest in shares … we build up big pots of gold … to fight the good fight.”
Justice Tracey this week said it appeared the union viewed hefty court-imposed penalties as simply the “cost of doing business”.
“The penalties … have not been sufficient to persuade the union and its officials to obey the law,” he said.
The Federal Court found Mr Myles and Mr MacDonald abused their workplace entry rights to gain access to the Regional Rail Link project site, which they had argued was to deal with health and safety issues.
The federal building watchdog, the n Building and Construction Commission, said it was “entirely unacceptable” to abuse right-of-entry laws and treat contraventions as the “cost of doing business”.
“A permit holder must comply with site safety requirements the same as any other visitor to a site,” acting commissioner Cathy Cato said.
“The unlawful conduct in this case not only put the officials and others on site at risk but resulted in a significant disruption to an important taxpayer-funded project.”