Builder Claims Union Demanded Bribes

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015
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A builder has accused the construction union of blackmail, insisting he lost job contracts in the ACT after refusing to pay them “bribes”.

Claw Constructions owner Troy Armstrong labelled the CFMEU thugs and liars in his witness statement to the royal commission into union corruption.

He says union organiser Tony Vitler warned him in 2012 that he would not win jobs if he didn’t sign an enterprise bargaining agreement with the union, or alternatively, make donations or sign-up members.

“I took this to mean they were leaning towards wanting a bribe,” Mr Armstrong said.

During a meeting at a McDonalds outlet in Fyshwick, Mr Armstrong said Mr Vitler told him the union could guarantee him work if he signed an EBA with them.

“We make sure IC and Pacific take the big jobs in town and we will make sure the little jobs go to you,” Mr Vitler allegedly said.

When Mr Armstrong told Mr Vitler he could not afford to pay the labourer rates within the EBA, he replied: “I don’t give a f*** about small businesses”.

“He definitely threatened to kick me off sites if I did not sign an EBA,” Mr Armstrong told a hearing of the commission in Canberra.

He said numerous worksites were disrupted by the CFMEU over safety concerns soon after his refusal to sign the EBA.

“As a result of not signing EBAs … I believe I have missed out on a number of jobs and have been subjected to an unfair level of scrutiny on sites as payback.

“They just use the safety as a method of blackmailing business and people to sign up with them.”

The royal commission heard evidence from three other builders claiming the CFMEU told them to stop working with Mr Armstrong.

Claxton Constructions owner Zoran Stojanovic said he witnessed a WorkSafe inspector get intimidated into shutting down one of their worksites by CFMEU ACT secretary Dean Hall, despite the inspector having given the site the all-clear.

“If you don’t f****** close the site and someone gets killed, you will go to jail,” Mr Hall allegedly yelled.

Another builder, Robert Rossi, said the inspector was “shaking”.

Mr Rossi said four union officials, including Halafihi Kivalu, later told him and Mr Stojanovic they would make life “hell” for them if they didn’t get rid of Claw Constructions.

“I remember replying ‘how about we put a tape on and record what you just said. They replied ‘no’,” he said in his witness statement.

Mr Armstrong denied accusations from the union’s lawyer John Agius that he was “anti-union”, rejecting calls to withdraw claims of bribery and blackmail.

But he agreed that his competitors IC and Pacific were bigger and more established in the ACT than his company and therefore more likely to get bigger jobs.

The hearing continues…


By Belinda Merhab
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