What a busy day for Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Graeme Samuel in the popular press this morning…

One tabloid has Telstra threatening Samuel with a High Court challenge, the others are all beating the bejaysus out of the threat to “name” petrol companies (what, we don’t know who they are?) and along the way they’ve managed to get a union fined for trying to run a closed shop. All that’s missing is a slap at the tokenism of Qantas’s fuel surcharge reduction.

The $125,000 fine awarded against the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union in the Federal Court yesterday is the issue that receives the least coverage but could well be the most important.

Only the AFR seems to have the story, but the ACCC’s application of the Trade Practices Act is another turn of the federal government’s anti-union screws.

The ACCC was after a $250,000 fine but judge Neil Young only went half that distance in clobbering the CEPU for trying to enforce a closed shop.

The Fin’s Matthew Drummond reports the judge found that Edison Mission agreed with the CEPU in 2001 that only contractors who had signed an agreement with the union would be employed in the construction of a new power station at Loy Yang.

The CEPU was caught as an accessory because it aided and abetted Edison’s conduct. Edison has settled its side of the case with ACCC and is awaiting a penalty hearing next month.

What makes the story bigger news is the claim that agreements like the CEPU-Edison deal are still common in other industries. There are a lot more potential prosecutions out there if the ACCC goes looking.

Peter Fray

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