More than seven in 10 bosses within the construction sector in the Australian Capital Territory are being subject to bullying and intimidation from union officials, a building industry lobby group says.

Unveiling the results of a recent survey of its members, Master Builders ACT said industrial blackmail and extortion was widespread within the industry, as had been evidenced in other states through hearings of the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption but was no less prevalent in the ACT.

According to the survey:

  • More than four in 10 (41 per cent) of respondents had been subject to physical intimidation, while more than seven in 10 (71.8 per cent) had been verbally intimidated
  • Almost six in 10 (58.4 per cent) had received threats from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) about being excluded from the market if they did not agree to pattern enterprise agreements (which require payments to CFMEU associated entities)
  • Three per cent had been asked to make ‘donations’ to the CFMEU or related business entities in exchange for industrial peace
  • Seven per cent say they had been asked for outright bribes.

Master Builders ACT executive director Kirk Coningham said the central threat revolved around companies being excluded from the industry if they failed to meet union demands.

Coningham said the presence of the Royal Commission in Canberra had given builders and those whom they employ confidence to speak out – a fact he said had been demonstrated when around 50 workers stood outside union offices on July 3 and tore up their membership.

“The central threat is that a company must meet the union demand or else they ‘won’t work in the commercial construction industry,” Coningham said. “Those threats also prevent witnesses from coming forward – until now.”

These comments follow calls from CFMEU ACT branch secretary Dean Hall for the Fair Work Ombudsman, Australian Tax Office and Australian Securities and Investments Commission to investigate sham contracting, tax dodging and phoenixing, which he alleged was common in the industry and including in the ACT.

In one case, the union claims an investigation had discovered that a worker who had been admitted to hospital after he was struck by an unfastened shutter that fell over in the wind had been underpaid, not provided with entitlements such as penalty rates or allowances, and had more than likely been the victim of sham contracting.

But Coningham said union behaviour was unrelated to genuine worker concerns, and that builders speaking out had “everything to do with challenging the criminal behaviours we have endured in our workplaces for far too long.”

“Builders and sub-contractors in Canberra are finding the courage to stand up against the intimidation and bullying that has become a sad fact of life on building sites in the Territory,” he said. “There is no place for bullying and intimidation anywhere in our society. We are now seeing fear being replaced with courage as construction workers reclaim control of their businesses and livelihoods in our city.”