An official at one of Australia's biggest unions threatened to run out of town any steelfixing or scaffolding businesses that failed to collude on a minimum price for their work, prosecutors alleged on Monday at a hearing over allegations about cartel conduct.
Between 2011 and 2013, the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union was in meetings with the Canberra businesses to negotiate new enterprise bargaining agreements, when the businesses complained about unaffordable pay rises contained within the terms of the agreements.
Prosecutors allege that during these meetings union officials pressed the steelfixers and scaffolders to set a minimum price for their jobs which would allow them to meet the pay rises.
The union and its ACT secretary Jason O'Mara were charged in 2018 and have pleaded not guilty to two counts each of attempting to induce the businesses into cartel conduct.
At a hearing in the ACT Magistrates Court on Monday, prosecutor Rowena Orr QC alleged that during one of these meetings Mr O'Mara said: "Is everyone happy with $780 per tonne as an agreement?", in reference to the price of steelfixing.
She alleged he also asked a business what had been done about setting a minimum price.
Further allegations suggest Mr O'Mara told one business that $15 or $16 should be enough to cover the bargaining agreement and that the scaffolding business could charge more if they wanted.
Either Mr O'Mara or another official allegedly told one business if they were quoting less "you are an idiot".
It's alleged he or the other official said something along the lines of: "We will make it very hard for anyone who doesn't have the union EBA" and that they were trying to get them more money for their jobs.
Either Mr O'Mara or the other official suggested the scaffolding businesses contribute to a joint kitty, and that anyone who went under the agreed price lose their money, the prosecutor said.
One also said the businesses should send their quotes to the union to check they were keeping to the agreement, and if it was below they would "run them out of town", it's alleged.
That idea was praised by a union official as a "great idea", the court heard.
The court is expected to receive 46 statements and hear from 37 witnesses, with 24 to be called and cross-examined.
There were five steelfixing and nine scaffolding businesses involved in the meetings with unions.
The committal hearing before Chief Magistrate Lorraine Walker, listed for two weeks, is to determine whether the case should proceed to a superior court for trial.
Mr O'Mara could face up to 10 years in prison if found guilty while the union could face a $10 million fine.