A prominent industry union has been fined over a series of strikes it organised that were deemed illegal by the Federal Court.
While businesses most commonly hear of the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) prosecuting employers over breaches of workplace laws, it is the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU) that most recently attracted the ire of the workplace watchdog.
The Ombudsman took legal action against CFMMEU over a strike campaign conducted between 7 and 14 August 2015 at shipping container terminals operated by Hutchison Ports Australia.
At the time, the responsible union was the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), which has since merged with what was the CFMEU.
According to the FWO, the industrial action involved employees stopping work over 21 shifts at the company’s facilities at Port Botany in NSW and Port Brisbane in Queensland.
However, the action was unlawful, because the enterprise agreement had not yet expired when the strikes took place.
In handing down her verdict, Justice Jayne Jagot labelled the union’s action “deliberate, strategic and co-ordinated comprising part of a ‘comprehensive strategy’ against HPA”.
Demonstrating the extent of the industrial action, Justice Jagot noted the union had established a strike fund to collect donations for employees not working, facilitated picketing events at both terminals and embarked on a public media and social media campaign.
“The MUA was engaged in one overall concerted action to bring industrial pressure to bear on HPA not to implement the proposed redundancies at the Sydney and Brisbane terminals in a manner which the MUA considered would be in breach of the enterprise agreement, would result in the unlawful termination of around 100 employees, and destroy its own capacity to continue to function as an effective industrial organisation,” Justice Jagot said.
“The industrial action continued despite the Fair Work Commission having ordered to the contrary on 7 August 2015 in respect of employees, amended on 10 August 2015 to apply also to the MUA”.
She found the union guilty of breaching the Fair Work Act, and fined it $38,000.
Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said that it is not just workers who receive protection under the Fair Work Act, but also employers and unions.
“Australia has clear rules outlining the process when it comes to taking industrial action. These rules must be respected in all workplaces,” Ms James said.
“Ignoring the law and organising unprotected and unlawful action undermines our industrial relations system.”
The CFMMEU has been contacted for comment, while Hutchison Ports Australia said it would not comment on the verdict.
In February this year, the CFMEU was fined $1 million over boycotts at two Melbourne construction sites.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.