Here’s the extremely well-written (and brave) piece written by the CEO of Boral. It is carried in the Fin, but also The Age.
Well done, I say. And it just shows you how piss-weak the police and the ACCC are dealing with this appalling situation.
We are lucky to live in a society where the vast majority of our citizens obey the laws of the land, and those few who don’t are judged in a fair and transparent manner by their peers – and penalised accordingly.
Exceed the speed limit on our roads and chances are you will pay a hefty fine. Punch someone outside the pub while intoxicated and you are likely to face a minimum period in prison, at least in NSW. Companies and their directors who dump toxic sludge into a waterway can face both civil and criminal penalties.
It’s what makes us a civilised society. It’s one of the (many) things I like about my adopted home.
But it seems that there is one area where individuals and the organisations they represent can break the law with impunity. And even when they are caught, found guilty and penalised, they simply ignore the penalties and carry on regardless.
I know because my staff and I have been caught in the middle of just such a situation – a situation where one rogue trade union, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, has intimidated our people, harassed our clients and damaged our business, yet operates and behaves as if nothing happened.
The recent revelations by Fairfax Media about the links between some CFMEU officials and organised crime is but another chapter in what we at Boral have experienced over the past 12 months: an inexcusable, unfair and unlawful campaign against our company, and our staff, even though we are not in dispute with the union. This campaign impacts the livelihood of our customers, employees, our suppliers, and ultimately impacts our shareholders.
Since the middle of 2012, the CFMEU has run an orchestrated and very costly campaign against Boral for one simple reason: we have refused to give in to demands by the union that we stop doing business with one of our long-standing clients, the Grocon group, in Melbourne.
The long-running dispute is between Grocon and the CFMEU, and we have been caught in the middle, as part of an unlawful secondary boycott.
Over that time, our trucks have been stopped, our workers have been intimidated, some of our drivers harassed and threatened, and many of our clients in Victoria have had a “friendly visit” from union officials essentially warning them not to do business with us. Many of our clients have refused to toe the union’s line, for which we are eternally grateful, but it’s a tough call for many small operators.
The result is that on many occasions, our trucks have turned up at sites and have been barred from carrying on their lawful business by union heavies at the gates, supposedly on health and safety grounds. It also means there are many other occasions where we have simply missed out on work because our traditional customers don’t want to take on the union.
So far, this unlawful campaign has cost us over $10 million in lost sales and legal fees; money that is being taken out of the pockets of our shareholders, many of whom are Mum and Dad retail investors, or the superannuation funds that manage their retirement money.
Not surprisingly, we have spent a lot of time and effort trying to use all available legal means to get the matter sorted out and stop the boycott. Boral has been actively pursuing its rights through the appropriate legal channels, including taking the CFMEU to court on multiple occasions, as well as talking directly with the federal regulator, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, and the Victorian branch of Fair Work Building and Construction.
When we have taken the CFMEU to court in relation to their boycott campaign, the courts have ruled in our favour. We had injunctions granted 12 months ago by the Supreme Court in Victoria, but these were simply ignored by the CFMEU – further proof that some in that union believe they are above the law.
We are now back in court but the process is likely to take another 12 months and more shareholders’ money.
We are a large and well-known Australian listed company and have the resources to stand up to the CFMEU in Victoria, but imagine just how difficult it must be for smaller companies or sole traders who are victimised by the union and its actions.
The fact is that the speed of the union’s actions and the time it takes to get legal remedies is out of kilter, which is why we strongly support moves by the federal government to establish a revamped industry taskforce; one that has real teeth and that can act quickly and firmly to enforce the rule of law on our building sites. While the reintroduction of the Australian Building and Construction Commission is an important step, unless it and the ACCC are properly resourced, it will be difficult for them to perform the role that the public rightly expect them to fulfil.
There is a grimy underside to this business, where physical and financial threats are part of this union’s game plan. Unfortunately, this underside is rarely seen by the public, especially while other union leaders protect or ignore the relatively small number of individuals whose behaviour tarnishes the reputation of a movement originally designed to protect its members.
Now, I am not anti-union. We work closely with our employees and the various unions that represent them. However, surely the time has come for governments at national and state levels to ensure the law of the land is enforced.
It is time for the federal parliament to bite the bullet and tell the CFMEU that like everyone else in Australia, the union will simply have to obey the law.