The CFMEU has been accused of attempting to control the price charged by Canberra steelfixers and scaffolders, allegedly telling businesses if they did not comply they would be “run out of town”.
On Monday, both the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and its ACT secretary Jason Lawrence O’Mara appeared in the ACT Magistrates Court for the first day of hearings, each pleading not guilty to two counts of attempting to induce a person to contravene a cartel offence provision.
The Commonwealth Department of Public Prosecutions’ opening address alleged that from 2011 and 2013, CFMEU members contacted Canberra steelfixing and scaffolding business to hold several meetings over a proposed enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA).
In these meetings, the union allegedly encouraged businesses to come to an understanding where they would not charge below an agreed minimum price for their services.
According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), steelfixing is the installation and fixing of reinforcement steel on building sites, including concrete slabs, while scaffolding includes the erection and dismantling of scaffolding on building sites.
Steelfixers charge their services by the weight of steel in tonnes (the ‘tonnage rate’), while scaffolders charge from the volume of scaffolding dismantled in metres.
Yesterday (22 February), the prosecutor alleged concerns were raised in the CFMEU’s meetings with the five steelfixers, particularly about a proposed 5 per cent annual wage increase, which the employers claimed could not be absorbed into existing tonnage rates.
Prosecutors allege in a meeting Mr O’Mara, or another union representative, said phrases such as the steelfixers “needed to do what they had to do to make the EBA work”.
Similarly, the scaffolders also complained about wage increases in the meetings.
Mr O’Mara or another union representative, different to the other man who discussed the EBA with the steelfixers, allegedly told the nine scaffolders phrases like “you should raise your rates” and “we will make it hard on anyone who does not have the EBA”.
They also allegedly said employers should give their tender information to the CFMEU so the union could see what they were pricing, and if anyone was quoting below the minimum rate, the union would “run them out of town”.
Mr O’Mara allegedly went so far as to say: “if you’re quoting less than $15 or $16 per square metre, then you are an idiot”.
The prosecution said out of a total of 37 witnesses, 24 would be called and cross-examined during the hearing, with two granted conditional immunity from prosecution.
Mr O’Mara’s lawyer told the court the case against his client relied primarily on statements said at certain meetings. He also said the material had raised questions about the propriety and objectivity of the investigation.
In August 2018, the ACCC stated the charges against the union and Mr O’Mara followed a joint investigation between the commission and the Australian Federal Police following the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption.
Last week, the court had heard the committal hearing that is before Chief Magistrate Lorraine Walker was originally estimated to last for two weeks.