Blackmail charges against CFMEU in Australia waste of time

Charges of criminal blackmail that were laid against two officials from BWI partner union in Australia the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) are a waste of court time and resources and should be struck out immediately, a Victorian Magistrates Court has heard.

Police claim that the the two men concerned, CFMEU Victoria Secretary John Setka and Deputy Shaun Reardon, are being tried for organising an industry-wide boycott of a construction materials firm called Boral. Boral had refused to stop supplying to Grocon, with whom CFMEU had a long-running industrial dispute. The charges are based on comments made in 2013 in which the officials were alleged to have threatened to organise a secondary boycott against Boral. 

On Thursday the defence argued that the Police charges are in violation of civil legal protections that have decriminalised these tactics in industrial disputes. They have argued that the Competition and Consumer Act states that criminal proceedings are not to be brought for a variety of civil law violations, including secondary boycotts intended to cause loss or damage.

There is little doubt amongst the Australian trade union movement that the current charges are part of a wider attack against union activism, of which the CFMEU has been isolated as the central target. The recent election in Australia in an attempt to force both Houses of Parliament to revive funding for the Australian Building and Construction Commissioner, a body whose main purpose was to attack the CFMEU. 

The case will return to Court next Wednesday, however if it proceeds to a hearing it could be delayed until mid-2017.