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Australian court fines union and 7 leaders over site blockade

An Australian union and seven of its officials have been penalised in court for unlawful conduct that halted work at the AU$1.2bn (£690m) Perth Children’s Hospital project.

Penalties totalling AU$277,000 (£159,000) were issued to the Construction, Forestry, Mining & Energy Union (CFMEU) and officials including senior union leaders Dave Noonan (national secretary), Mick Buchan (Western Australia state secretary) and Joe McDonald (then Western Australia state secretary).

The fines were imposed for unlawful blockades of the hospital site on four separate days between January and July 2013. On one occasion, about 400 people blockaded the main entrance, preventing a large concrete pour involving 45 trucks. The Australian Building & Construction Commission (ABCC) said that CFMEU officials organised, incited, and controlled the protest because the head contractor did not agree to a demand for a “whole-of-site EBA” (enterprise bargaining agreement).

In a further incident the union organised a blockade that prevented 200 workers from entering the site.

In a third and separate blockade, CFMEU official Tawa Harris admitted to attempting to prevent workers from entering the site by physical restraint.

In handing down penalties, Justice Barker made specific reference to Buchan and McDonald as the “driving forces” behind one of the blockades, saying they “clearly provided endorsements to the unlawful action and gave it what might be called a misplaced legitimacy in the minds of the CFMEU members”. Barker also took into account the “prior extensive history of contraventions on the part of the CFMEU” in determining the penalties imposed.

ABCC commissioner Nigel Hadgkiss described the case as “yet another example of the CFMEU acting unlawfully to promote its industrial agenda”. He added: “It is unacceptable for the CFMEU to have blockaded a critical new hospital for children. Once again the CFMEU has chosen to use its industrial muscle in preference to complying with the law.”

The total penalties for the CFMEU are AU$220,500 and for the officials are AU$56,500.