Amid media claims of corruption involving unions on key building sites, the current regulator for industrial relations within the building industry in Australia has taken unrelated court action against a key construction union over alleged practices of coercion on a Perth building site in 2013.
On Monday, Fair Work Building and Construction (FWBC) said it had lodged a matter with the Federal Court of Australian Perth against the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) as well as six of its officials over allegations of coercive and adverse action on the Perth Children’s Hospital site being managed by head contractor John Holland in January 2013.
In its claim, FWBC says that on January 25 (2013), CFMEU officials Joe McDonald, Brad Upton and Tawa Harris stood together at the Hospital Avenue entrance to the site from 5:30am to 6:20am with a posture and demeanour and in attire calculated to deter project employees from entering, arranging themselves in such a manner as to ensure workers could not enter without making physical contact and telling some workers that there was a safety meeting across the road and that the site was closed.
Following a meeting in which the majority of workers votes to cease work until the following Wednesday, FWBC says McDonald, Harris and another CFMEU official Patrick Heathcote then proceeded to block the site again until 11am, telling some workers who approached that the site was closed.
Following this, FWBC says union officials again blocked the site on January 30, with Harris taking action to physically prevent one worker from entering the site to commence work.
The building regulator says the union and its officials variously breached s 340, s 343 or s 348 of the Fair Work Act 2009 in deterring them from attending work in what it says was an attempt to coerce them into taking industrial action instead of exercising their right to go to work.
FWBC also alleges union officials further breached the Act by attempting to coerce John Holland to agree to an immediate meeting without prior notice (a request John Holland denied, citing the need to arrange for suitable personnel to be there in order for the meeting to be effective).
Maximum penalties for this type of conduct include fines of $10,000 for individuals and $51,000 for the union itself for each applicable breach of the Act.
In a statement, FWBC director Nigel Hadgkiss said claims of this nature were serious and that the regulator would take action where necessary.
“We are taking claims of coercion and adverse action very seriously and resolve to take action through the courts wherever necessary” Hadgkiss said.
“Coercive and adverse action against workers, who just want to do honest work for honest pay, is unacceptable.”
Though unrelated, the latest developments come amid political moves by the government to abolish FWBC and replace it with the former Australian Building and Construction Commission – the regulator for industrial relations which was in place prior to the inception of FWBC in July 2012 and which many within the industry feel had stronger powers than the current regulator.