CFMEU Protest
CFMEU Protest

‘Fear’ of unions stopping workers from speaking up

THE construction watchdog has dragged a record number of people before compulsory questioning in Queensland, as the industry says "fear and anxiety" of unions was keeping people coming forward of their own free will.

It follows a Federal Court judge on Friday accusing the CFMEU of "unending recidivism".

The number of people targeted by the Australian Building Construction Commission's rarely used compulsory examination powers has exceeded last year's record, which was already double any other time in the past six years.

The powerful procedure can be used to compel a witness to alleged unlawful industrial action to answer questions or hand over documents.

Of the 13 examinations conducted in Australia in 2018-19, 10 of them were in Queensland.

This compares to just seven examinations conducted the previous financial year.

An ABCC spokeswoman said the number of examinations conduced in Queensland reflected the "significant increase in investigations commenced in the State in the financial year and the level of co-operation provided by witnesses".

"The majority of examinations concerned unlawful industrial action and coercion contraventions," she said.

It was largely construction sector employees and management who were compelled to answer questions in 2018-19, with no union officials called.

Master Builders Queensland boss Grant Galvin said the ABCC could not use evidence from a compulsory examination to prosecute the person who had given it.

"The absence of union officials in the figures for compulsory examinations should not be misunderstood as compliance," he said.

"Regrettably, participants in some sectors of the industry still suffer a level of anxiety over giving evidence and an individual may prefer the ABCC send them a ' letter of compulsion', so to deny the information was given willingly."

Attorney-General Christian Porter said the ABCC were conducting the examinations to "curb lawlessness and disruption", which had become "standard operating procedures" for the CFMEU.

Attorney-General Christian Porter congratulated the ABCC for its actions to “curb lawlessness” in the Queensland construction industry. Picture: AAP Image/Lukas Coch
Attorney-General Christian Porter congratulated the ABCC for its actions to “curb lawlessness” in the Queensland construction industry. Picture: AAP Image/Lukas Coch

"Queensland residents are ultimately paying the price for those cost blowouts as there is less money available to deliver other vital community project such as schools and hospitals," he said.

The CFMEU has been critical of the ABCC, accusing it of being "a taxpayer funded paralegal arm of the Liberal Party".