Over the past month Boral Chief Executive Mike Kane has brought to public attention the orchestrated and costly secondary boycott campaign waged against it by the Victorian branch of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union. The continued thuggery by the CFMEU prompted an excellent question from Senator Boswell yesterday during Senate question time, which brings me to discuss the issue this evening. According to Mr Kane, since the middle of 2012:
… our trucks have been stopped, our workers have been intimidated, some of our drivers harassed and threatened and many of our clients have had a 'friendly visit' from union officials warning them, essentially, not to do business with us.
All this is for just one reason, Boral has consistently and rightly refused to yield to CFMEU demands to stop doing business with the Grocon group. Mr Kane has exposed the systemic bullying, harassment, victimisation, 'physical and financial threats', intimidation, coercion, unlawfulness, thuggery and the total breakdown of the rule of law in the construction sector, all of which is costing Boral between $10 million and $12 million a year.
Boral is a collateral target in a war not of its own making. But it does not stop there. Now, not only is Boral, as a third party, being caught up in the CFMEU's war against but Grocon, but Boral's clients are being intimidated into terminating their commercial relationship with the company. As Mr Kane observes, 'For some reason the union gets a pass on this type of behaviour, but if a company did it they would be prosecuted.' When it comes to industrial thuggery and violence the CFMEU is a repeat offender. Since 2010, the Victorian branch of the CFMEU and its officials have been fined at least $4,399,550 for various breaches of industrial laws, not to mention contempt of court. I am sure those fines have been paid out of the hard-earned dues of workers.
The secretary of the Victorian branch, John Setka, is on the record as saying:
Our union has given us a mandate, they want us to remain a militant union.
… sometimes we have to push the boundaries a little.
He went on:
It's not the first time or the last time a union is found guilty of contempt.
The CFMEU's blatant disregard of the rule of law or the administration of justice is breathtaking. Senators for Victoria would clearly remember the Myer Emporium dispute in August and September 2012, where the CFMEU engaged in a disgraceful public display of industrial thuggery and violence on Lonsdale Street in Melbourne.
While securing innocent Grocon employees on the Myer Emporium site, the police were set upon by hundreds of CFMEU members, who openly defied a Supreme Court injunction and reportedly punched police horses. It is alleged that Mr Setka also assaulted a Grocon manager by driving his car at him at a building site in Footscray. It is no wonder that Mr Kane has labelled the CFMEU cowards and bullies. Despite Boral obtaining three separate Supreme Court injunctions against the CFMEU's unlawful conduct the union continues to flagrantly defy the authority of the court. It continues to engage in an unlawful, systematic secondary boycott of Boral and its clients.
The three injunctions have now progressed to contempt hearings against the CFMEU. In light of the public and well-documented actions of the CFMEU it came as a surprise to me that the chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Mr Rod Simms, confirmed that he had looked into the Boral case but that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute. According to Mr Sims:
I don’t think there is any deficiency in the law, there is just an issue in gathering evidence to get these things to courts.
With 15 supporting affidavits, three separate injunctions and ongoing contempt proceedings before the Supreme Court of Victoria I seriously struggle to understand what issue Mr Sims has identified in gathering sufficient evidence. The evidence of the CFMEU secondary boycott is freely available to anyone who might choose to look. I understand that two meetings of shop stewards were allegedly held in Melbourne, where instructions were given to engage in the secondary boycott against Boral and its clients. The evidence of the effect of the boycott is available from any customer that the ACCC might care to ask. After all, if the evidence was sufficient for the Supreme Court of Victoria to find that there was a prima facie case to justify the granting of three injunctions, why is it insufficient for the ACCC to at least commence an investigation into the matter? I note that the ACCC web site states:
… we will take action where this … stops conduct that is anti-competitive or harmful to consumers …
So I would invite Mr Sims to explain the following. In what respect is the evidence relating to the Boral case insufficient? What specific issues in gathering evidence justify not commencing proceedings against the CFMEU? How is the secondary boycott campaign waged by the CFMEU against Boral and its clients not—in the ACCC's own words—anticompetitive or harmful to customers?
Mr Sims has reportedly said that the investigation of these types of allegations—presumably, allegations of secondary boycotts—is 'a priority for the ACCC'. Senators will have to forgive me for being slightly skeptical. According to its quarterly activity reports, the last time the ACCC commenced and concluded secondary boycott proceedings was in August 2006—almost eight years ago. I note that in that case Justice Finn dismissed the ACCC application.
It seems that Mr Sims is entirely correct. Investigating allegations of secondary boycotts is a priority for the ACCC—it is an incredibly low priority. Mr Kane should be commended for his courage in exposing and standing up to the industrial thuggery of the CFMEU. I would urge all law enforcement agencies and regulatory bodies, including the ACCC, to take strong action against secondary boycotts and other breaches of our law.