By Ben Wilson
Victorian Construction Forestry Mining Maritime and Energy Union (CFMMEU) leaders John Setka and Shaun Reardon, are suing major concrete maker Boral.
This is the company behind the charges that the two faced, and which were used in the federal government’s vendetta to get at the union and its officials. Government representatives made no secret of this, and claimed that charges showed that the accused were not fit to hold office in a union.
Forgotten was the little fact that the circumstances of the charges were suspect and the two had not appeared before a court and been found guilty yet. The intention was always trial by media and the hope that the outcome before the court would be assured.
But in May, prosecutors dropped the case, because they could not present the evidence needed to secure a guilty verdict.
For Setka and Reardon, this was an immense relief. It also proved how flimsy the case was all along. In the light of this setback, the federal government has been unusually quiet for a change.
A bonus from the defendants and the union’s point of view, is that documents have come to light, which show that false statements were made. The accused also have good reason to want their names cleared.
They were charged with blackmail over a heated exchange with representative of the company at a café in April 2013. There was a dispute over health and safety with developer Grocon, and Boral had been asked not to supply concrete to the site in question. The threat bit is, that the company representatives held that they were threatened with industrial action if they didn’t comply.
To most people this is a normal part of industrial relations negotiation. Both sides suggest something will happen, if the other does not go along with what is being put forward. Even this could not be substantiated. a key company document states in black and white, that the accused “did not threaten….or otherwise make any unwarranted demand with menaces.” This contradicts public statements made.
Setka and Reardon said in their statement, “in initiating and maintaining criminal proceedings,” the company representatives “acted maliciously.”
This case and a number of others of a similar nature have far reaching implications. They mark a turn towards less reliance on industrial law and more on the use of criminal law to impose government anti-union agenda and outlaw normal union activity.
Also revealed, is how far the federal government is prepared to go to manufacture trumped up charges against those it sees as its political enemies.
Successfully suing Boral will make it a bit harder to do this in the future.