Threats and intimidation are widespread in the building industry and making and receiving “inappropriate payments” common, according to the last Royal Commission that investigated the sector.
That was 10 years ago in an investigation then called a “witch hunt” by the CFMEU, the union at the centre of allegations of connections to crime figures.
Viewed from the background of an overall decline in union membership in Australia, the CFMEU is a force in the Australian labour movement.
It claims 110,000 members. Compare that to the estimated 1.1 million who are members of a trade union for their main job in the private sector, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics numbers.
Here are 10 things you should know about it, now that it’s back in the news and likely to stay there for some time.
- Each year the union raises about $20 million in membership fees. Ten years ago the CFMEU had net assets of $71.2 million. By the end of 20102 this had fallen to just under $52 million.
- The union was formed in the 1990s when there was a push to rationalise the number of unions. The CFMEU is made up of three divisions: Construction and General Division, the Mining and Energy Division and the Forestry and Furnishing Products Division
- Former CFMEU national secretary John Maitland was branded “corrupt” by the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption following an investigation in 2013 into Hunter Valley mining deals involving the former state government minister Ian Macdonald. Maitland made $15 million from the granting of mining licenses without tender, but the deals were torn up by the O’Farrell Government a few weeks ago.
- Joe McDonald, from the CFMEU’s Western Australia branch, has cost the union more than $1 million in fines over the last 8 years. In December 2013, McDonald and the CFMEU were fined $193,600 over an incident in February at a mining site in the Pilbara region. In 2007 McDonald was expelled from the ALP over video footage of him abusing someone who asked him to leave a work site.
- The union was fined $115,000 in May 2013 after the Fair Work Building Inspectorate took them to the Federal Court over illegal work bans to get a sacked NSW union delegate reinstated.
- A number of legal actions instigated against the CFMEU by the federal Government’s Fair Work Building and Construction continue to make their way through the courts.
- Private property developer Grocon is suing the CFMEU for $10.5 million in damages over blockades at four construction sites. The Supreme Court of Victoria last year found the CFMEU was in contempt of court over pickets blockading Grocon’s $250 million Myer Emporium site, where police and protestors clashed in August 2012, as well as its McNab Avenue site in Footscray.
- When building firm St Hilliers made Warren Whitney redundant from a Gosford building site in 2011, the union imposed work stoppages on five St Hillier sites across the ACT and Victoria until Whitney was reinstated.
- On March 30, 2001 the CFMEU was fined $200,000 for contempt of court, plus costs, for deliberately not complying with an order to stop industrial action at a BHP coal mine.
- The Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry in 2003 said the CFMEU had contempt for the law and that there was a powerful case for cancelling the registration of the union. It stopped short of recommending de-registration, saying individuals were at fault.
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