Construction workers who participated in unlawful industrial action at Woodside's Pluto project have been ordered to pay over $1 million in total fines, with some individual fines reaching $10,000.
The Federal Court found that the eight days of strikes carried out in October 2008 had caused significant project delays and economic losses to the $15 billion LNG project, located on the Burrup Peninsula near Karratha.
A total of 117 individuals – at the time employed by CBI Construction – were fined, with 85 receiving the $10,000 penalty, believed to be the biggest individual striking fine ever issued in Australia.
For 24 of those workers, the entire fine must be paid within the next two months.
The other 61 must pay $5,000 in that time and have had the other half of the fine suspended on the condition that they do not break any industrial laws within the next three years.
The remaining 32 workers were fined smaller amounts, as they had not taken strike action for the entire eight days. In total, the court ordered $680,125 of fines to be paid within the next 60 days, and $387,875 suspended.
The dispute centered on workers' claims that their union collective agreement entitled them to a redundancy payment and to re-employment in the next phase of the project.
CBI denied the claim on the grounds the project had not entered a new phase.
The industrial watchdog at the time – the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, since replaced with the Fair Work Building and Construction Inspectorate – issued a return-to-work order on the first day of the strike, which the striking workers mostly ignored for up to seven more days.
Several episodes of bitterly-fought industrial action took place at the Pluto site during its construction, which began in 2007 and was completed early last year.
Just last month, the High Court heard an appeal from CFMEU against construction giant Mammoet in respect of a 2009 strike, during which that company refused to provide accommodation and meals to the striking workers.
The High Court decided in favour of the workers, finding that accommodation was not a "payment" for the purposes of the Fair Work Act and as such was not prohibited during protected industrial action.
And in 2011, more than 1,300 workers were issued almost $5 million in total fines for their participation in unlawful strikes in December 2009 and January 2010, protesting against the introduction of "motelling", or the cessation of individual permanent rooms, at the Pluto site.
Those fines were only suspended when the workers – represented by the CFMEU, the Manufacturing Workers Union and the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union – agreed to a seven-year moratorium on illegal strikes, not only at Pluto but also at the Browse and North West Shelf projects. The CFMEU has not yet commented on the most recent fines issued by the court.