Royal Commission on Trade Unions Release Proposed Sanctions

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Tuesday, May 19th, 2015
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Companies paying bribes to unions could face fines of up to $17 million under laws to be considered by an inquiry.

At the same time, construction union bosses could be banned from office as a radical solution for dealing with contempt of court rulings that order an end to protests or boycotts at building sites.

The proposed sanctions are contained in a new discussion paper released by the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption.

Counsel assisting the commission, Jeremy Stoljar SC, will release the paper outlining possible recommendations and reforms arising from the inquiry, which is now in its second year.

The 122-page document canvasses tight controls on union election funding, asks whether unions should be subject to a regulatory body other than the Fair Work Commission and whether officials should be subject to the same corporate laws governing company directors.

Mr Stoljar said tougher penalties for payment of “corrupting benefits” to unions were needed because current laws were inadequate.

“It seems clear that the current regime is not limiting or preventing payments of this kind being made,” he said.

The discussion paper raised the possibility of individuals offering bribes being subject to a $1.7 million fine or 10 years in jail, in line with commonwealth laws relating to bribery of foreign officials.

Companies that offer bribes could be subject to a fine which is the larger of $17 million or three times the benefit offered.

Among the proposals likely to be most contentious is for enforcing court orders in the construction industry.

In an introduction to be read at the commission on Tuesday, Mr Stoljar will raise the idea of empowering police officers to read out a court order prohibiting a picket, boycott or ban of a building site “and calling upon the persons to disperse”.

“Any person still present at the site within a specified period after that time (eg 15 minutes) would commit an offence,” Mr Stoljar will say.

“Conviction for such an offence would among other things be a ground of disqualification from office in a registered organisation.”

Mr Stoljar said on Monday the law would not be about police being empowered to smash picket lines.

“The only way that you can bring an action for contempt is by serving a notice of charge and working it through the courts,” he said.

“There’s got to be some quicker and more effective means.”

Unions and companies will have until August 25 to respond to the paper.

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