28 Jan 2014

Union officials in cahoots with organised crime in Australia

6:00 am on 28 January 2014

Union officials in Australia have formed corrupt relationships with organised crime figures, receiving kickbacks in exchange for arranging lucrative contracts in the construction industry.

A joint investigation by the ABC and Fairfax Media has found that bribery, extortion and threats of violence are used to cement the influence of crime figures on Australia's construction sites.

Companies connected to major crime figures have won contracts on private and government projects, including Victoria's desalination plant and the Barangaroo development in Sydney.

The ABC says evidence including covertly recorded conversations, bank records, police intelligence files and whistleblower accounts implicate a number of senior members of the influential Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union in New South Wales and Victoria in corruption.

In a secretly recorded conversation, one building industry figure tells a colleague that he has given cash bribes and other inducements to several members of the union's Victorian hierarchy, along with lower-level union shop stewards.

Labour hire companies have paid crime figures and union officials to obtain contracts for major building projects, even though some of those companies have become infamous for ripping off workers and leaving them without their entitlements.

The CFMEU is able to pressure large builders to use certain contractors - including labour hire companies - by wielding the stick of costly industrial action and holding out the carrot of peace on building sites.

A Victorian CFMEU official, Danny Berardi, resigned immediately after Fairfax and the ABC supplied evidence that he got at least two companies to help renovate his properties for free in return for getting them work on Melbourne construction sites.

Australian Building Construction Commission chief Nigel Hadgkiss said law enforcement agencies recently obtained evidence about "the payment of bribes to senior union officials" in Victoria.

However, he said that in the past, police had not acted on evidence of corruption in the building industry, leaving the field open for criminals and corrupt officials.