ACT News

Attempt to suspend entry for Canberra union official a political stunt to scare Senate: CFMEU

A Canberra union official could be banned from entering building sites after a federal agency applied to suspend his right of entry permit.

Anthony Vitler is among seven CFMEU officials from across Australia whose permit rights Fair Work Building and Construction wants suspended or revoked.

But the CFMEU ACT says the move is a political stunt to help the Abbott government gain Senate support to reinstate the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

The FWBC – the federal government agency that enforces industrial relations laws in Australia's building and construction industry – has applied to the Fair Work Commission to suspend the permit of organiser Mr Vitler, from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Electrical Union, for three months.

Mr Vitler and six other CFMEU officials from across Australia have been targeted by the application.

Victorian CFMEU organiser John Perkovic is also among those being pursued.


A FWBC statement said it had sought to have Mr Perkovic banned from entering all construction sites for two years after he verbally abused a government employee, calling him "a f---ing piece of shit" and referring to him as a "c---".

The Federal Court fined Mr Perkovic $5000 for the incident, with the judge saying said "Mr Perkovic attempted to belittle, humiliate and intimidate" the government employee.

The CFMEU and its officials were also fined a total of $205,100 by the court for breaking federal right of entry laws at three developments in Adelaide.

The Federal Court described the officials' behaviour as "coordinated and strategic", and indicated an "attitude of indifference … to compliance with the requirements of the legislation regarding the exercise of rights of entry."

FWBC director Nigel Hadgkiss said "holding a right of entry permit was a privilege".

"Everyone on a construction site needs to follow the law whether they are a union official, worker or employer," Mr Hadgkiss said.

CFMEU ACT state secretary Dean Hall said the union would defend Mr Vitler and "take every measure to protect the rights of their members to have representation on site, particularly in the areas of safety".

Mr Hall accused the FWBC of timing this announcement in an attempt to gain vital Senate support to reinstate the building industry watchdog.

The government wants to reintroduce the ABCC, which operated from 2005 to 2012, and had controversial coercive interrogation powers.

The Gillard government abolished the ABCC in 2012, and replaced it FWBC.

A number of crossbenchers have indicated they would side with Labor and the Greens to vote down the ABCC bill when it goes before the Senate in the next fortnight.

"This is very interesting timing this action by the FWBC as is it related to the ABCC bill that the Abbott government and the employers are desperate to get through the Senate," Mr Hall said.

"The possibility that the bill will not get up has caused panic and desperation among the employers, the FWBC, and the Abbott government, who are struggling to get any legislation through the Senate.

"Going after workers for their rights of entry permits proves that it's nothing but a political witch-hunt by the FWBC which is being directed by the Abbott government and its attempts to pass what is an undemocratic and discriminatory law."

The applications will now go to hearing on a yet to be scheduled date.

The move comes only months after the FWBC launched court action alleging 18 breaches of safety laws on three Canberra construction sites in 2013 and 2014 by six CFMEU officials.

The offences carry maximum penalties of $10,200 per breach for an individual, and $51,000 per breach for a union.

The allegations include claims the officials contravened the Fair Work Act, failed to produce an entry permit for inspection when requested, did not follow occupational health and safety requirements of the construction sites, and obstructed employees from doing their job.

The CFMEU has vowed to fight the allegations.