Today’s 24-hour media cycle can make news feel even more fleeting than in days when yesterday’s newspapers were tomorrow’s fish and chip paper. But participants in the building and construction industry should not lose sight of the recent criminal contempt of court verdict imposed on the CFMEU.
In its ground-breaking decision, the Victorian Supreme Court found that the union’s defiance of the court’s orders to cease its violent protests at Grocon’s Emporium site in 2012 was criminal.
Boral is also taking legal action against the CFMEU for allegedly orchestrating secondary boycotts to prevent the company supplying Grocon sites.
The criminal contempt verdict and the sworn affidavits of Boral employees in the company’s litigation will help expose the union’s modus operandi to the Heydon Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption.
Just as importantly, these cases highlight how the toxic culture of the CFMEU shackles the productivity of a crucial industry and holds an industrial and financial gun to the head of the construction industry.
Only the principled stands of Grocon and Boral CEOs Dan Grollo and Mike Kane and the deep pockets of their respective companies allowed court action against the union to be initiated. The cost of their fight cannot be measured purely in the substantial legal fees and court costs which Grocon had to weather for two years prior to the recent decision. Wage, equipment and materials costs do not evaporate because a site is shut down by industrial action and builders face potential liquidated damages if projects are not completed on time. Grocon alone has launched a damages claim against the union for approximately $10 million.
The brutal reality is that lack of resources makes such a legal self-defence a pipe dream for the vast majority of the industry of which the union is only too aware.
Only independent regulatory watchdogs with appropriately strong powers can provide any production against a union which does not feel itself bound to behave like normal members of the community or adhere to community standards of behaviour.
Prior to its abolition by the previous Government, the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) proved successful in suppressing industrial thuggery and ameliorating the influence of the CFMEU’s toxic culture on the construction industry.
The ACCC also has strong powers to investigate if secondary boycotts are occurring and must be encouraged to exercise them.
Union officials have pointed to Royal Commissions and Inquiries into union activities, including in the construction industry, over the past 40 years. They fail to point out that it was the Whitlam Labor Government which first de-registered the infamous Builders Labourer’s Federation (the forerunner of the CFMEU) and the Hawke Labor Government which finally broke the BLF in the 1980s with the help of the then ACTU leadership.
Suppressing industrial thuggery, upholding normal community standards of behaviour and boosting productivity used to enjoy bipartisan support. Labor and the Greens should recall this legacy and support the Government’s Bills to restore the ABCC.