The Federal Court fined the CFMEU, its Victorian Assistant Secretary Shaun Reardon and former official Danny Berardi $43,000, for attempting to coerce a head contractor into signing an enterprise agreement with the CFMEU.
In his penalty judgment, Justice Tracey said of the CFMEU: “The present conduct of one of its officials adds to this depressing litany of misbehavior. It evidences an ongoing disregard for the rule of law and highlights the need for the imposition of meaningful penalties within the limits imposed by the Act.”
When the head contractor of the apartment complex development in Hawthorn, Victoria, told Mr Berardi they would not be signing an enterprise agreement with the CFMEU, Mr Berardi replied: “Well, you’ll be f***ed. I’ll blockade all your sites.” The head contractor then called Mr Reardon for support, asking him to intervene so that work on the site could continue. Mr Reardon said words to the effect: “Why would I help you and change his (Mr Berardi’s) direction? You’ve shown the CFMEU no respect…I’m f***ing sick of it, I’ve had enough and you’ll sign an EBA.”
Mr Berardi stopped work at the site on a day a crane had been scheduled to lift concrete panels into place. “Four large trucks (with concrete panels) had to return to Shepparton without being unloaded…The cost of each truck and driver was put at about $2,000 for the return trip… The $8000 was effectively thrown away.” “A mobile crane had to be dismantled and leave the site having done little work,” the Court said. Mr Berardi also disrupted work at the site on a second day. The Court accepted the head contractor’s estimation that “had these delays not occurred, the work would have been completed a week earlier.”
In its decision, the Court noted Mr Berardi’s past behaviour. In 2009, the courts fined Mr Berardi
$1000 and wholly suspended it for two years. “It became payable because, not long afterwards, Mr Berardi again contravened s38, this time by imposing a ban on the performance of work at another site at Hawthorn,” Justice Tracey said yesterday. The Court subsequently fined Mr Berardi $5000.
“Undaunted Mr Berardi continued to offend”. In 2013 the Federal Court fined him $9,500 because he “encouraged a mobile crane crew not to enter a work site and had persuaded workers on another site to go on strike, in both instances with a view to coercing an employer to re-instate an employee…The type of conduct involved in these cases bears a striking similarity to that presently under consideration,” Justice Tracey said in his penalty decision yesterday.
The Court also made reference to Mr Reardon’s previous seven contraventions for which he was penalised. “I infer that Mr Reardon would have been in a position, had he been so minded, by reason of his position as Assistant Secretary of the Branch, to have directed Mr Berardi to desist. Mr Reardon, in substance endorsed what Mr Berardi had done, notwithstanding that it involved contraventions of the Act” Justice Tracey said. “Mr Reardon expressed no remorse for his conduct and expressed no willingness, in future, to comply with the Act.”
FWBC Director Nigel Hadgkiss said while this was a good result for the agency, regrettably there are 25 coercion allegations currently being investigated. On top of that, FWBC has a further 16 coercion matters before the courts across the country.
“Breaking workplace laws has very serious consequences for the building and construction industry and the people who work in it,” Mr Hadgkiss said. “Repeat offending, is to my mind, particularly concerning. While we are winning individual cases in the courts, it does not seem to be changing the willingness of some parties to break the law when it suits them.”
The Courts have penalised the CFMEU and its affiliates more than $5.7 million in matters brought by FWBC and its predecessor agencies, the Australian Building and Construction Commission and the Building Industry Taskforce.