Several days illegally blockading Melbourne building sites has cost Australia's biggest construction union more than $1 million.
The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) is set to be fined $1.25 million and ordered to pay costs for ignoring court orders and blocking the sites.
Victorian Planning Minister Matthew Guy said the fines were the “the strongest ruling of its kind against a union in Australia” and sent a strong message to the union.
The CFMEU began a blockade of Grocon’s Emporium site in the Melbourne CBD in August 2012, stopping workers from entering for about two weeks and choking peak-hour traffic.
On one of those days unionists clashed with riot police as about 1000 people gathered outside the site.
Grocon called the ruling a defining moment for the construction industry.
“It should be clear to the Victorian CFMEU that old-style bullying and intimidation has no place in a modern workplace or the broader union movement,” the company said in a statement.
“The construction industry must take a stand to eradicate this sort of lawless behaviour and require all players to simply obey the law.
“We welcome what is a defining moment today for the construction industry and the rule of law.”
Victorian Supreme Court Justice Anthony Cavanough on Monday said he intended to fine the CFMEU $1 million for defying a court order to cease the Emporium blockade for four of those days.
He will fine the union another $250,000 for preventing vehicle access at a site in Footscray in September 2012 and another in Collins Street in Melbourne in April 2013.
The CFMEU at the time said the conflict with Grocon was over the appointment of safety stewards on the site and other safety issues.
Federal Employment Minister Eric Abetz called the fines unprecedented.
Victorian Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews labelled the illegal CFMEU blockade appalling.
“The court has ruled no one is above the law,” he said.
“The fine should be paid in full and it should be paid promptly.
“What went on was appalling behaviour. It should not happen again.”
Documents tendered to the court show the CFMEU Victorian/Tasmanian branch had the means to pay the hefty fine.
The branch had cash at bank and short-term deposits of $12.38 million with net assets of $51.93 million, according to the documents.
Justice Cavanough last year found the union guilty of criminal contempt over the blockades.