A head contractor has successfully obtained an injunction against the CFMEU, CEPU and another union as well as some of their officials, who are alleged to have engaged in unlawful interference with contractual relations and conspiracy arising out of industrial action in dealings with subcontractors. The Federal Court agreed there was a serious issue to be tried as to whether the unions had breached the general protections provisions in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) and secondary boycott laws by pressuring subcontractors to refuse the head contractor’s request for them to work outside contract hours on the delayed Fortitude Valley construction project. With the major residential and commercial tower construction project near Brisbane suffering from around 40 days of industrial action, the head contractor needed the subcontractors to work outside usual hours to meet completion deadlines. This was met with resistance from the unions, including using “safety concerns” with the effect of hampering the catch up efforts which prompted the interlocutory application. Justice Collier acknowledged that the construction project was at a critical point and that the balance of convenience favoured the granting of the injunctive relief; otherwise, the head contractor would suffer significant financial prejudice should there be further industrial delays.
View from the sidelines: Industrial action is not always as obvious as a “picket line” or “tools down”, and employers need to be wary of the sometimes more subtle (but often intimidating) “slow downs” or “safety concerns” that can hamper productivity in the workplace. It is encouraging that the head contractor has successfully taken action (even if only temporary) to minimise the unlawful interference on this project. If you are witnessing similar strategies being employed in your workplace, we would encourage you to seek legal advice to explore whether your organisation can take similar steps to protect your business.