$180,000 in penalties have been imposed by the Federal Court in Perth against the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU) and three of its officials for organising a half-day strike during the construction of the Forrestfield to Perth Airport rail link in December 2018.

The Court also imposed $156,000 in penalties against 39 employees engaged on the project.

CFMMEU WA State Secretary, Michael Buchan, former Assistant State Secretary, Graham Pallot, and Organiser, Walter Molina, were found to have organised unlawful industrial action across three Perth Airport rail sites.

The officials’ actions led to 39 employees walking off the job, with a large group of employees at the Forrestfield site leaving work after feeling “unwell” and later attending a meeting in the carpark of the project’s head office that was organised by the CFMMEU officials.

The employees’ actions resulted in work stopping at the projects’ Forrestfield, Redcliffe and Bayswater sites.

In delivering judgment, Justice Colvin, said, “The circumstances of the present case manifest a willingness on the part of the Union to disobey the requirements of the Act.

“The strike was plainly unlawful. The action was taken without any attempt to negotiate. It was encouraged by very senior officials of the Union. It was taken in circumstances where Salini had asked for time to consider the claim and where there was an agreed mechanism for resolution of disputes as to entitlements under the EA such as a claim to redundancy pay.

“The issue was raised with Salini on a Friday and the walk-off occurred on the following Monday. There is no suggestion of any immediacy to the issue raised that was of a kind that might provide some semblance of explanation for the conduct. In particular, there was no issue about safety or ongoing physical work conditions or present payments. There was no suggestion that Salini was not engaging with the issue. A formal response was provided to the employees on the Monday.”

In relation to the prior offending of the CFMMEU, Justice Colvin said, “The Union has a long history of unlawful industrial action that is well known in this Court. In the present instance, the Union, relevant officials and workers admit that their actions involved unlawful industrial action contrary to s 46 of the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Act 2016 (Cth) (Act).”

Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) Commissioner, Stephen McBurney, said Justice Colvin’s judgment reflected the seriousness of the unlawful industrial action.

“On 2 December 2016, the ABCC was reborn and the cost for breaking the law in the building and construction industry went up,” Mr McBurney said.

“When 75 employees walked off the job and took strike action in 2013 at the New Children’s Hospital project in Perth, they were penalised $1,400 each. In this case, the workers have been penalised $4,000 each.

“It is concerning that this action was organised by the state secretary Mr Buchan, the former assistant state secretary Mr Pallot and organiser and previous contravener Mr Molina.

“In this case, as in many others involving the CFMMEU, there is a lack of contrition and remorse, with no indication of an intention to address or rectify this unlawful behaviour.”

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