A judge has slapped a union and its ACT officials with nearly $160,000 worth of fines for acting as though they were "above the law" and unlawfully picketing outside the Constitution Place development.
In a Federal Court judgment handed down on Tuesday, Justice Anna Katzmann chastised local Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union secretary Jason O'Mara, his assistant secretary Zachary Smith, and organiser Joshua Bolitho.
She said the men were seemingly unfazed by past penalties when, about 5.30am on May 14, 2018, they parked cars in front of the $300 million construction project and put chains and locks on its entrance gates.
The judgment said a total of between 12 and 20 people were involved in the picket. Mr O'Mara and Mr Smith said they'd lost the keys to the cars when they were asked to move the vehicles.
Justice Katzmann said the men linked arms to block a busload of truck drivers from accessing the site, and put up an electronic sign that displayed the messages: "Danger! Wage theft occurs on this site" and "Bad bosses and ACT Gov partners in crime".
The judgment said police were called to Constitution Place about 6am on May 14, and project management used bolt cutters to break a padlock. The union group had left the site by about 8.30am.
"The combination of the deliberate obstruction of entry to the project site, the refusal to remove vehicles when asked, and the use of chains and locks without authorisation from the site's occupiers puts the contraventions [of the law] in the serious category," Justice Katzmann said.
The judge said the picket was unlawful because the union officials stopped people from accessing or leaving the site in the name of challenging "wage theft". She said the picket amounted to a nuisance and delayed work at the site by about two hours.
"It is reasonable to infer that the union takes the view that paying penalties is merely a cost of doing business," Justice Katzmann said.
"In the absence of evidence to the contrary and in the light of its appalling record, the inference is open that the union has done nothing to encourage its officers and employees to comply with laws that stand in the way of its industrial objectives."
While the judge fined the union $126,000 over the picket, she also ordered that the three officials be personally penalised to feel the "sting" of what they'd done. She ordered that Mr O'Mara and Mr Smith pay fines of $12,600, and Mr Bolitho pay $8400 - without handouts from the union.
"None of the men expressed contrition or gave any indication that he would not reoffend if the opportunity arose again," Justice Katzmann said.
"As long as the union officials can look to the union to pay the penalties or reimburse them, they have little incentive not to reoffend."
In December 2019, the Federal Court fined the union a total of $270,000 for unlawfully picketing two construction sites in 2017.
The Australian Building and Construction Commission says it has filed a further three cases alleging unlawful picketing by the union.
On Wednesday night, the ACT's opposition business and employment spokesman, Andrew Wall, said the Federal Court decision was a "win for all the employees and employers in the industry who continue to do the right thing in the face of unlawful union interference".
Mr Wall said: "Is it any surprise that an organisation with a history of unlawful behaviour has once again found itself in the sin bin without remorse?"