The CFMEU and its Victorian/Tasmanian Branch President have been penalised $245,000 in the Federal Court for trying to coerce a Melbourne-based scaffolding company to hire a CFMEU shop steward.

The Court found Victorian/Tasmanian CFMEU President Ralph Edwards instructed CFMEU officers to prevent the scaffolding company from entering worksites until the company had complied with the union’s demands to employ a shop steward.

During a penalty hearing held last month, Justice Jessup highlighted the CFMEU’s poor record of law breaking, posing the question:  “Has there ever been a worse recidivist in the history of the common law?”

In delivering this decision, Justice Jessup was equally critical of the CFMEU’s willingness to break the law.

“Counsel for the respondents submitted that, however bad may be the Union’s prior record of contravention, it would be wrong for the court to impose a penalty that was disproportionate to the gravity of the particular contravention under consideration. I accept that a principle in these terms has found expression in the past, but never, so far as I am aware, in a situation in which the previous record is as egregious as that of the Union in the circumstances presently facing the court,” Justice Jessup said.

Justice Jessup also said to describe the CFMEU’s record as “serious” would be to understate the situation to a significant degree.

“This record, and the judicial observations to which I have referred, suggests that the penalties heretofore imposed on the Union have been inadequate to provide the specific deterrence which is so conspicuously required in this area of the law.” Justice Jessup said.

Fair Work Building and Construction Director Nigel Hadgkiss welcomed the penalty decision which also ordered the CFMEU to pay $20,759.67 in compensation and interest to the scaffolding company to compensate it for lost earnings and damage.

“In this case the Court found the CFMEU had threatened to put this company out of business. There is no place in the construction industry, or any other workplace for people to use unlawful or threatening tactics in order to prevent workers from conducting their legitimate business interests.” Mr Hadgkiss said.

“The type of behaviour on display in this matter has no place in the modern industrial relations landscape. FWBC will continue to strive for harmonious and productive conditions on Australian construction sites by taking action against those who break the law.”

In delivering penalty decision, Justice Jessup imposed fines totalling to $210,000 against the CFMEU and $35,000 against Mr Edwards. The fines may be reduced to $126,000 and $21,000 respectively if certain penalties are paid within the terms of the orders of the court.