CFMEU in bribery allegations

EVIDENCE heard on Tuesday by the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption accused the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union of bribery and maintaining connections with underworld figure George Alex.

Marion Lopez

The evidence, heard in Sydney, referred to two businesses – the Lis-Con group of companies and the George Alex group of companies.

During the hearing, the ABC reports Lis-Con construction manager Eoin O’Neill said bribery practices by the union forced the closure of the company’s Queensland office in 2011.

In a statement tendered to the commission, O’Neill reportedly told of a meeting with CFMEU Queensland organiser Bud Neiland where he said he was asked to pay the union in exchange for work.

“There is a price for doing business in this town and everybody pays it,” Neiland allegedly told him.

At the time, Lis-Con had just finished work on the Brisbane Airport Link.

But the company alleged it did not get any more local work after that, with O'Neill claiming that his refusal to pay the union had the immediate consequence of seeing all of Lis-Con’s tenders go unanswered.

“There were three or four companies, direct competitors of ours, and they were paying the union directly so they could get the jobs we were on,” O'Neill reportedly told the commission.

O’Neill claimed this cost Lis-Con its Queensland office.

In addition, he reportedly said that his lack of cooperation with the CFMEU triggered it to undertake a nationwide campaign against Lis-Con, where union officials allegedly turned up onsite to cause safety breaches and disrupt projects.

“Somebody would go in and plug out the water for the toilets or someone would go and plug out the power for the fridges,” O’Neill reportedly said.

“It's an old stunt and then they would come in and say it’s not fit for use.”

Though the CFMEU was not allowed to provide evidence at the hearing, national secretary Dave Noonan in a statement said the union made no excuse for its attitude towards Lis-Con, who he claimed owed $600,000 in unpaid super to its employees.

Noonan said the union successfully recovered these monies from Lis-Con on behalf of the employees.

“We make no apologies for doing our job and securing entitlements for workers in the industry,” Noonan said.

“Once again the royal commission has given the opportunity for someone with an axe to grind to say what they like, without any opportunity for their evidence to be tested.

“The royal commission’s practice of leading evidence without giving the opportunity for cross-examination allows questionable claims to be put forward without challenge for weeks or months and claims put forward should be treated with scepticism.”

O'Neill reportedly denied Lis-Con was behind in paying superannuation entitlements to its employees.

In another case, Noonan said the union also recovered $900,000 worth of workers entitlements from the George Alex group of companies.

However, the union’s relationship with these companies was portrayed as a sign of corruption by the union when former CFMEU official Brian Fitzpatrick told the commission of a death threat he received by a colleague after advising the union cut ties with George Alex.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports an audio of a triple-0 phone call Fitzpatrick made in the company of his colleague Radhika Raju after receiving the threat was played during the hearing, corroborating his account to the commission.

In it, Raju reportedly stepped in to tell the emergency service Fitzpatrick was told he would be killed the next day.

But when police arrived, Fitzpatrick reportedly said he told them it was a “false alarm” because he found out the death threat was in fact made by a “comrade”

Outside the royal commission, Noonan reportedly said these were “hardly the actions of a person who is concerned for his life”.

The hearing into the CFMEU finished on Tuesday. The commission is yet to announce when the union will be able to supply evidence against the claims made against it.