A construction union says claims of extortion at Queensland building sites won’t stand up in court, as the royal commission into union governance moves south.
Union officials are confident of avoiding criminal charges in Queensland over claims they used extortion to force a company to bow to their demands.
Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) secretary Dave Noonan says it would be “absolutely amazing” if charges arose from evidence given at a royal commission this week.
The royal commission into trade union governance has heard claims the CFMEU’s Queensland arm intimidated customers into boycotting a large crane company to gain leverage during enterprise bargaining.
Mr Noonan said there isn’t a shred of evidence to support any allegations aired during three-and-a-half days of sittings in Brisbane.
“I think the line about criminality was good for a headline but I don’t think it’s got a snowflake’s chance in hell in terms of surviving any proper legal process,” Mr Noonan told reporters in Brisbane on Thursday, after the commission adjourned for the week.
Earlier this week Universal Cranes boss Albert Smith said the CFMEU’s coercive tactics left him no choice but to agree to demands that included a multi-million dollar redundancy fund for workers.
It also emerged that money paid by employers and earmarked for sacked staff was given to workers who were on strike.
On Thursday, CFMEU federal vice-president Michael Ravbar returned to the witness box and continued to reject the claims of bullying, intimidation and coercion levelled at himself when he was state secretary and other officials.
Under cross examination from counsel assisting the commission Jeremy Stoljar SC, Mr Ravbar denied telling Mr Smith “we will kill you in Darwin” during negotiations or that the union tried to coerce him to “fix” union membership among his workers at close to 100 per cent.
“I don’t accept anything that Albert says,” Mr Ravbar said at one point, later adding Mr Smith’s was one of many companies in an industry full of “rogues and rednecks”.
The union boss said Mr Smith had actually offered to pay union dues on behalf of his workers. However Mr Ravbar refused the “blood money”, calling it a bid to control the relationship between workers and the union.
Mr Ravbar also defended arrangements where only union members have access to some perks that are funded by all workers.
He called non-unionists “freeloaders”.
“It is no different to joining a club and enjoying benefits,” he told the commission.
Afterwards Mr Noonan said it was clear the inquiry was created by the Abbott government to hinder unions and pave the way for a return to Work Choices.
“They’re not about a fair dinkum look at corruption in our society or any such thing,” he told reporters.
The commission will resume in Sydney next Tuesday.