Australia's biggest construction industry union has copped a heavy fine for stopping two painters from working at a Melbourne site because their memberships had lapsed.

And a Federal Court justice has slammed the CFMEU for its “deplorable” record of breaching industrial laws in recent years.

It comes after CFMEU representative Godwin Farrugia told two painters at a Quest Apartments building site in March 2014 that they could not work until they paid their membership fees.

Farrugia, a CFMEU shop steward, was found to have breached the Fair Work Act and was fined $10,000 on Monday.

The union was handed a near-maximum penalty of $95,000 by Federal Court Justice Richard Tracey.

Justice Tracey said Farrugia had attempted to enforce a “no ticket, no start” regime, and had falsely implied it was a “union site”.

“(The painters) were told, in substance, that unless they paid their arrears in subscriptions within a relatively short period, they would not be allowed to work,” Justice Tracey said.

“When one of the workers failed to comply with the demand, he was told by Mr Farrugia that he could not work on the site and was directed to leave.”

The judge said it was not an isolated incident, noting the CFMEU had contravened industrial legislation 135 time in the past 15 years.

“The CFMEU has accumulated a deplorable record of contravening civil remedy provisions of the Act,” he said.

The action was brought against the CFMEU by the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

ABCC Commissioner Stephen McBurney said the case showed why workers’ freedom-of-association rights must be protected.

“To threaten someone else’s livelihood because they exercise their right to decide whether to join or not join a union is unacceptable and unlawful,” he said.

“It is part of a pattern frequently seen on construction sites.”

By Rick Goodman