Daniel Grollo’s union test

It has been a big year for Daniel Grollo, son of Melbourne Rich Lister Bruno Grollo.

In May, he formally took ownership of the family’s construction business Grocon. Although he had been running the business for a number of years, a formal split of Bruno’s assets saw Daniel finally take complete control.

In June, he finally signed an enterprise bargaining agreement with the Construction, Forestry, Mining, and Energy Union, after a long period of negotiating. With billions of dollars’ worth of projects under construction or in the pipeline, getting an agreement done with Australia’s biggest and most militant building union made this an important milestone.

But just a few months after making this agreement, Grollo finds himself at war with the CFMEU. Today he has taken the extraordinary step of penning a newspaper piece on the dispute and asking the CFMEU to end the dispute. Indeed, there’s a note of pleading in Grollo’s tone that underlines how serious this has become.

The dispute with the union centres on the blockading of one of Melbourne’s biggest building sites, the $1.2 billion Myer Emporium project in the heart of the CBD.

Last week, according to Grollo, the CFMEU had about 200 members – most of who do not work for Grocon – block access to the site over a dispute about whether Grocon should pay for union stewards to work on site.

Grollo, as you would expect, doesn’t believe he should pay. “This would amount to paying millions to people whose lines of control are external to Grocon and whose productivity would be open to question.”

The union claims that its actions are related to occupational health and safety concerns on the site, a claim Grollo refutes, pointing to the company’s good OHS record.

What’s really riled Grollo though is the union’s handing out of leaflets which include the names and photographs of six Grocon employees and cartoon image of a “scab hunter” with a double-barrelled shotgun. The flyer says: “Get rid of these scabs out of our industry. They will never be forgotten.”

Grollo writes today that CFMEU leaders should stop the threats against Grocon employees.

“If, as CFMEU leaders claim, it doesn’t mean to condone the level of threat associated with being on the wrong end of a double-barrelled shotgun, then?they should work to prevent circulation of leaflets adopting that imagery towards respected Grocon employees. Instead, they go to ground.

“We know the blockaders best by what they do each day and what they allow to be done in their names. Individually and collectively, they choose to infringe the rights and peace of mind of others and to prevent legitimate work on some of the country’s safest sites.”

Grocon will return to the Victorian Supreme Court today to try and end the blockade, although how much luck the company will have isn’t clear – the CFMEU ignored a previous court order to end the blockade.

Workplace Minister Bill Shorten has intervened in the dispute, forcing both sides to a mediation session at Fair Work Australia. He also says the government’s new building industry group, Fair Work Building and Construction, is investigating the matter.

However, FWBC chief Leigh Johns says it is unlikely to intervene and Shorten himself has admitted the Fair Work regime does not cover blockades.

Exactly where that leaves this dispute is not clear. This morning when I passed the site, union members were still in place at both entrances, with the CFMEU’s black colours highly visible.

This is shaping up as a big test – for Grollo, for the Federal Government’s IR system, for its new building regulator and for the courts.

James Thomson is a former editor of BRW’s Rich 200 and the publisher of SmartCompany and LeadingCompany.

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