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Hutchies' deal with CFMMEU amounted to illegal boycott - court

Business

Construction company J. Hutchinson Pty Ltd and militant union the CFMMEU entered into an agreement to boycott a subcontractor at a Brisbane construction site, the Federal Court has found.

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In proceedings brought by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, it was found that Hutchinson engaged a company, Waterproofing Industries Qld, on a construction project in Brisbane and later moved the work to another company after the union informed it that there was no enterprise bargaining deal with WPI. 

The court found that by making and acting on the agreement, Hutchinson contravened sections 45E and 45EA of the Competition and Consumer Act, which prohibit contracts, arrangements or understandings for the purpose of preventing or hindering the acquisition of goods or services from a supplier, which is also referred to as a boycott.

“The ACCC is extremely pleased with the court’s decision today. Boycotts are a kind of anti-competitive conduct which harms the economy as a whole as well as individual businesses,” ACCC chair Rod Sims said.

“We took this action because we considered the agreement between Hutchinson and the union prevented or hindered Hutchinson’s choice about which businesses to hire, and limited subcontractors’ access to construction markets. This type of agreement is likely to have inflated the costs of construction projects.”

Justice Downes said that the evidence provided by the ACCC’s witnesses supported a finding that the motive for the arrangement was “to return to a situation where, as a general rule, subcontractors engaged by Hutchinson at the Southpoint project would have an EBA, being something the CFMMEU pressured Hutchinson to do and which Hutchinson did to avoid industrial action”.  

The CFMMEU was found to have been knowingly concerned in, or party to, the contraventions of sections 45E and 45EA by Hutchinson. 

The court also found that the CFMMEU induced Hutchinson’s contraventions by threatening or implying that there would be conflict with, or industrial action by, the CFMMEU if Hutchinson did not stop using WPI.

“We believe this was very serious conduct, and will be putting forward submissions to the Court about the appropriate penalty for this behaviour at a later court hearing,” Mr Sims said.

The Court will decide on penalties and other orders at a later date.

Hutchinson is one of Australia’s biggest privately owned construction companies with around 1800 staff and over $2.5 billion worth of projects annually.

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