A Federal Court judge has slammed the behaviour of Australia’s biggest construction union, arguing that the union had a history of unlawful behaviour and was using unlawful coercive conduct as a ‘business model’.

Handing down maximum penalties of $54,000 against the Construction, Mining, Forestry and Energy Union (CFMEU) over repeated work stoppages spanning more than three weeks on the $126 million Commonwealth Games project on the Gold Coast, Federal Court Justice John Reeves said the union had a history of unlawful behaviour for which stern penalties were required.

“The history of contraventions by the CFMEU highlighted above requires a penalty that forces it to stop using such coercive conduct as a business model and the resulting penalty as a cost of doing business,” he said.

Over seventeen working days spanning May 9 to June 2 last year, the union and officials Shaun Desmond and Andrew Watson organised repeated work stoppages at the site of the Carrara Sports and Recreation Stadium project on Queensland’s Gold Coast.

These took the form of twice-daily, two-hour ‘union meetings’.

The purpose of the meetings – which were stopped only after an injunction was secured – was to disrupt work and coerce the head contractor to sign a new agreement on the union’s terms, the court found.

According to the judgment, the action was intentional and continued until the union had secured its objective in the withdrawal of workers employed by the structural subcontractors at the site.

Desmond and Watson were each fined $5,000.

The latest judgement follows a September decision which saw record fines against the CFMEU to the tune for more than $1 million over actions which saw more than 1000 workers shut down the Barangaroo site in 214.

Acting Australian Building and Construction Commission Commissioner Cathy Cato welcomed the decision, applauding the judge for his message that paying a penalty following coercive conduct should not be treated as a cost of doing business.


Brandon Vigon