More than one hundred construction workers have collectively been fined more than a million dollars for what has been deemed unlawful industrial action on a multi-billion dollar construction project in Western Australia.

Last Friday, the Federal Court of Australia handed down penalties totalling $1.068 million against 117 workers of CBI Construction Pty Ltd for their participation of eight days of unlawful action at the $8 billon Woodside LNG Expansion Project on the Burrup Peninsula near Karratha.

The workers took action in support of a claim they were entitled to redundancy payments under union collective agreements and to re-employment on the next phase of the project – a claim denied by the company on the grounds that the project had not entered its new phase.

Finding that the the action was in defiance of a return to work order issues after the first day of action, Federal Court judge John Gilmour apportioned penalties according to the number of days each worker had participated.

In total, 85 workers were fined $10,000, although 61 of these received a three year suspension of 50 percent of this amount because they had complied with the AIRC injunction and not engaged in further unlawful conduct.

A further 32 workers (24 of whom received a 50 percent suspension) were ordered to pay amounts ranging from $1,000 to $8,750.

It is believed the fines represent the biggest ever penalties imposed against striking workers in the history of the country.

Gilmour says the action resulted in significant delays and losses for the project.

Master Builders Association Kim Richardson told media outlets the action had been taken by the former Australian Building and Construction Commission under the then Building and Construction Commission Improvement Act abolished last year, and showed why the office of the ABCC needed to be restored.

“The conduct of these employees was wilful and deliberate in defying an Australian Industrial Relations Commission return-to-work order”Richardson says. “Employees had the ability to exercise a dispute through the settlement procedure without the need to take unlawful industrial action. It comes down to accountability.”

But Val Gostencnik, a director of Fair Work Building and Construction, the body which replaced the ABCC, says the agency was committed to taking action against unlawful conduct.

“The significance of these penalties shows how seriously the court takes unlawful industrial action” he says.