The nation’s biggest building union has been hit with millions of dollars in fines over conduct in which a judge has said that it was not possible to envisage worse behaviour.

Amid a tumultuous time which has claimed the scalp of the leader of Australia’s building industry watchdog, Federal Court Justice Geoffrey Flick impose maximum penalties of $1.3 million against the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU)over what it says was unlawful conduct concerning industry action taken by the union and more than 1,000 workers which shut down the Barangaroo construction site in Sydney for two days on July 24 and July 25 in 2014.

The Court also ordered penalties totalling $956,249 against the union’s NSW branch and $187,650 against eight union officials.

The judgement concerned action which Flick says was organised by CFMEU NSW State Secretary Brian Parker and involved more than 1,000 workers which shut down the site at Barangaroo on July 24 and 25.

The shutdown had happened in support of union delegate Peter Genovesee, who had been suspended from his employment after incidents of throwing a punch at a site manager and threatening to ‘kill’ him.

According to the judgement:

  • CFMEU ZSW State Secretary Brian Parker and other union officials led industrial action involving more than 1,000 workers which shut down the site.
  • Workers who attempted to enter the site were abused by unions officials and referred to as ‘scum’ and ‘dogs’.
  • Union organiser Lukke Collier intentionally read out an inspector’s mobile telephone number during an address to workers and told the inspector that he was a ‘f*ucking grub’ and ‘lower than a paedophile’.
  • A policewomen at the site described how Mr Parker ‘made sure I felt intimidated or scared’.

Flick hit out at the union’s behaviour.

“The CFMEU has long demonstrated by its conduct that it pays but little regard to compliance with the law and indeed has repeatedly sought to place itself above the law,” his judgement read.

“The CFMEU is to be regarded as a recidivist offender. It is difficult, if not impossible, to envisage any worse conduct than that pursued by the CFMEU.”

“The CFMEU assumes a prominent role in the industrial affairs of this country and has consistently exhibited a contempt for compliance with the law.”

“The conduct of its officers and employees has consistently shown a total contempt for the rights of occupiers and a total contempt for the constraints imposed by the law.”

“It is difficult to perceive how such conduct can be regarded as in the best interests of the bulk of its members and the workers it supposedly represents. Such conduct may promote the CFMEU as a militant union.”

The judge said it was “not possible to envisage worse union behaviour”.

“The CFMEU’s conduct exposes a cavalier disregard for the prior penalties imposed by this Court and exposes the fact that such prior impositions have failed to act a deterrent against further unlawful industrial action.”

The judgement came amid the resignation of Australian Building Codes Board director Nigel Hadgkiss amid revelations that under his direction the ABCC intentionally published misleading material in respect of the rights of unions to hold meetings with workers and the locations at which they may be held.

Whilst the record fines are a significant win for construction contractors in terms of bringing militant unions to heel, the resignation of Hadgkiss was seen as a victory for the CFMEU as industry groups saw him as being a strong and competent operator.