Somebody buy the movie rights to this story, quick. It
has everything. Unions, stand over tactics, boycotts, a Royal
Commission, and now a Federal Court prosecution. The only things
missing are Jason Statham and a hard rock soundtrack.
It all started when the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy
Union (CFMEU) fell out with construction company
Grocon. The Union stopped work and picketed Grocon sites. Boral got
caught in the crossfire because it was the exclusive concrete
supplier to Grocon.
Earlier this year the trade unions Royal Commission heard
allegations that CFMEU members banned use of Boral concrete at
construction sites in Melbourne or delayed supply by stringing out
safety checks on Boral trucks.
It turns out the ACCC was already investigating, and it has now
commenced prosecution proceedings against the CFMEU and a couple of
its key officers. It alleges secondary boycotts, attempts to coerce
Boral to block supply to Grocon, and harassment of Boral
So what's the deal with boycotts and union actions like
this, legally speaking? Although the Competition and Consumer Act
primarily targets commercial dealings between businesses, or
between businesses and consumers, there are a lot of ways it can
get a union into trouble.
Secondary boycotts: When two or more people,
say union members, get together to hinder the supply or acquisition
of goods or services between a third and fourth person, say Grocon
and Boral, causing the fourth person, Boral, loss, that's a
secondary boycott. It's prohibited under the Competition and
Consumer Act and the maximum penalty is $750k.
Harassment and coercion: The Australian
Consumer Law prohibits undue harassment and coercion in connection
with the supply of goods or services. Although originally intended
to apply to conduct between a trader and a consumer, the
prohibition is broad and should readily extend to cover strong
arming, shirtfronting, standing over, and other such union conduct.
The maximum penalty is $1.1M.
Attempts to induce anticompetitive conduct: To
top it off, any attempt by a union to induce a business to engage
in anticompetitive conduct can earn it up to another $10M in
All in all, it's a pretty damning set of allegations. The
CFMEU says it will defend the case, although it's not clear on
what basis at this stage. Maybe they're still trying to figure
that part out.
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