In a major blow to anti-union forces, trumped up blackmail charges laid against two construction union officials in Victoria have been dropped.
Police had alleged that Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU) leaders John Setka and Shaun Reardon had ‘blackmailed’ executives from concrete supplier Boral during a dispute with the construction firm Grocon.
Prosecutors alleged that the union officials wanted to cut off Grocon’s concrete supply and that they had warned Boral bosses to cooperate or face industrial action during a meeting in 2013. Setka and Reardon faced the prospect of 15 years jail if they had been found guilty.
The decision to drop the charges came after a mass demonstration of workers marched to the court in early May. In addition, accounts from Boral executives during the case were described as a “train wreck”.
It was revealed that one of the executives made 18 different drafts of his statement while the other one made 41 drafts! “We’re almost thinking of bringing Guinness Book of Records down here.” Setka said outside court.
In essence, this case was an attempt to criminalise industrial action, or even the threat of industrial action. Has an employer ever been dragged before the courts for threatening job losses or pay cuts?
A coalition of anti-union forces had hoped to land a significant blow on the CFMMEU and to discredit the wider union movement.
The prosecutions arose from the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption. That the state was unable to proceed with this case after spending $80 million on a politically motivated witch hunt is a major setback to their agenda.
Setka correctly described the whole ordeal as a “conspiracy”. This is no hyperbole as during the court proceedings evidence was heard that representatives from the government had been liaising with Boral executives.
The union’s lawyer, Peter Gordon, said that an “entirely innocent” conversation had been “exaggerated and distorted” into a false claim of blackmail after the company’s lawyers got involved.
“All of these lawyers were given their riding instructions by men who were on a mission for the extreme right of our politics.” Gordon said. The notorious anti-union law firm Freehills represented Boral in the case.
As we go to press the union is considering pursuing legal action against the company’s lawyers, as well as against state and federal police.
By Anthony Main