ACCC takes action against CFMEU over Boral boycott

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has launched legal action in the Federal Court against the CFMEU over an alleged black ban on Boral that cost the company $10 million and became a symbol of the legal ­system’s apparent powerlessness to enforce the rule of law in the building and construction industry.

The action relates to allegations that, following Boral’s refusal to stop supplying concrete to Grocon, the CFMEU instructed shop stewards to ban the use of Boral concrete at commercial construction sites in metropolitan Melbourne, by advising Boral customers that either Boral concrete was not permitted, or that ‘safety’ checks on Boral concrete trucks would be conducted causing significant delays.

The CFMEU faces fines of up to $10 million. Two high-ranking state officials, John Setka and Shaun ­Reardon, are accused of breaches ­carrying a maximum penalty of $220,000.

Commenting on the action to The Australian Financial Review, ACCC chairman Rod Sims stated that it was “arguably the most serious secondary boycott case the ACCC has ever taken” and that “if this sort of behaviour is allowed to continue to occur the effects would be profound”.

Prior to the matter becoming a focal point of the Royal Commission into Trade Union Corruption and Governance, the ACCC had insisted there was insufficient evidence to pursue the CFMEU over the matter.

The ACCC’s investigation supports the submissions made by the Royal Commission in relation to allegations the CFMEU engaged in secondary boycott conduct directed at Boral. However, the ACCC’s investigation did not identify evidence which supported allegations that Boral customers engaged in cartel conduct.

Master Builders strongly supports the ACCC in seeking to make the CFMEU comply with the law, particularly in the light of the evidence heard by the Royal Commission and Counsel Assisting’s submissions to Commissioner Dyson Heydon on this matter.

The fact that the ACCC almost did not proceed with this serious matter due to difficulties in gathering sufficient evidence underscores the need for a building industry watchdog with the stronger powers of the ABCC to be given responsibility for secondary boycotts in the building and construction industry.

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