The Victorian Coalition Government today called upon the National Union of Workers' (NUW) leadership to end the illegal picket at Somerton in the interests of public safety.
Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations Richard Dalla-Riva said the NUW national secretary Charlie Donnelly, should take urgent action to bring about an orderly and peaceful disbanding of the blockade at the Coles distribution centre.
"I have sought to speak directly to Mr Donnelly twice today. I have also sent an urgent message stressing the importance of bringing an immediate end to this picket," Mr Dalla-Riva said.
"Unless commonsense prevails, there is an increasing risk that this picket will result in unacceptable injury and cost, including to people not involved in this dispute.
"Union leaders have clear responsibilities to uphold. This picket is unlawful, and the Supreme Court of Victoria has ordered that traffic be allowed to enter and leave the company's premises freely, without harassment or interference.
"Yet still the picket remains in place, with union officials running excuses as to why some on the picket line can or should ignore the Supreme Court ruling.
"This is unacceptable. The ongoing picket represents open defiance of a court order.
"Investment and jobs should not be put at risk by disruptive and illegal union campaigns to stop businesses supplying customers. Nor should public safety.
"Union officials and members should not feel they can act outside the law with impunity."
Mr Dalla-Riva said the unprotected industrial action at Somerton reinforces the Victorian Coalition Government's concerns that the Federal Government has not acted to promote compliance with workplace relations laws.
The Victorian Supreme Court injunction to stop illegal picketing at the Somerton site followed a decision by Fair Work Australia (FWA) last week that it would not intervene in relation to the picket on the grounds that such picketing is not part of the bargaining process.
"As a result, we have a situation where because FWA would not intervene to stop the picketing activity, an employer, Toll Holdings, was left to resort to the Supreme Court to seek an injunction,'' Mr Dalla-Riva said.
"The fact is, these problems arise because the Federal Government has not adequately addressed the culture of defiance by some trade unions of court and tribunal orders, with little or no effective sanctions to stamp out illegal, disruptive and costly militancy.
"Around Australia over the past six years, certain trade unions have run disruptive, damaging and unlawful pickets at the premises of dozens of companies or projects, including the following: Amcor; Australia Post; Baiada Poultry; BHP Billiton; Boeing; Botany Cranes; JBS Swift Meatworks; Laing Rourke; Preston Motors; Schweppes; South Australian Defence Industry Exhibition; Woodside and Visy.
"Recently, the Federal Government rushed through legislation to amend the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009 to marginally increase certain sanctions for improper conduct in registered trade unions. Not only did the Federal Government rush this legislation through, but in doing so, it failed to adequately consult State Governments like the Victorian Coalition Government.
"Had it done so, the legislation could have been improved to ensure that not only were the new sanctions adequate, but that the opportunity be taken to implement effective measures to deter misconduct more generally by trade union officials and members who encourage illegal industrial activity in defiance of courts and tribunals.''
On 20 March, the Federal Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten said: "The Government has consistently stated that anyone who breaks a law should feel the full force of the law. The Government will not tolerate an environment in which people choose which laws to obey and which ones to ignore. This goes for all industry participants."
If Commonwealth legislation were operating effectively to deter illegal defiance of court and tribunal orders, examples such as illegal picketing at Somerton would not be occurring. The Federal Government cannot continue to ignore the culture of illegal and militant behaviour in some trade unions.
"Mr Shorten must practise what he preaches, and amend federal workplace laws to prevent unlawful and unethical behaviour by union officials or members.
"Unless Labor is prepared to confront squarely the abuse of office by its union mates, business, the economy, and workers will pay the price through loss of income, loss of investment and loss of jobs."