Criminal charges should be bought against the nation’s biggest building union, according to the interim report of the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption.
Tabled into Federal Parliament on Friday, the 1,566 page report describes a ‘pervasive and unhealthy’ culture within the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), and recommends that the Director of Public Prosecution consider criminal charges against the union for intimidation and coercion whilst ASIC consider charges against the Queensland CFMEU state secretary for breaches of the Corporations Act and prosecution be considered against the Victorian CFMEU secretary and assistant secretary on blackmail charges.
The Commission also suggested charges be considered against officials of the Health Service Union for false statements and that Victorian and Western Australian authorities consider charges against former officials responsible for an AWU workplace reform association slush fund, but did not recommend any action be taken over former Prime Minister Julia Gillard over her alleged involvement in the fund.
“The evidence in relation to the CFMEU case studies indicates that a number of CFMEU officials seek to conduct their affairs with a deliberate disregard for the rule of law,” the report says.
“That evidence is suggestive of the existence of a pervasive and unhealthy culture within the CFMEU, under which:
(a) the law is to be deliberately evaded, or crashed through as an irrelevance, where it stands in the way of achieving the objectives of particular officials;
(b) officials prefer to lie rather than reveal the truth and betray the union;
(c) the reputations of those who speak out about union wrongdoing become the subject of baseless slurs and vilification.”
In its report, the Commission catalogues a raft of cases of alleged illegal behaviour.
Since February 2013, for example, it says the union’s Victorian branch has ‘black banned’ Boral from CFMEU-controlled construction sites across Melbourne as part of an ongoing’ ‘war’ between the union and Grocon over Boral’s refusal to cease to supply concrete to Grocon whilst the ‘war’ was in progress, and describes how the union banned Boral’s concrete on more than a dozen sites.
In another case, it found the union engaged in a deliberate and protracted campaign against crane operator Smithbridge Group by applying pressure on its customers to remove the group’s cranes from their sites unless the group signed the union’s form of enterprise agreement and arranged for all of its employees to become union members.
Welcoming the Commission’s findings, Employment Minister Senator Eric Abetz called on the opposition to support tougher sanctions for misconduct and the reintroduction of the Australian Building and Construction Commission.
"I would have thought that anybody that is committed to the trade union movement would want to see a clean trade union movement - one where there is not criminality, where there is not thuggery, where there is not funny-money dealings going on," Abezt said.
But Australian Council of Trade Unions President Ged Kearney dismissed the Commission as a political exercise, and challenged the Abbott government to instead focus on a plan for job creation.
“Every Liberal Prime Minister since Billy McMahon has had at least one Royal Commission into trade unions – it’s their attack of choice against their political enemies,” Kearney said.
“What we have seen today is a desperate Government trying to make this something that it isn’t.”