Federal Court imposes significant penalty on the CEPU
11 February 2020
The Communications, Electrical, Electronic, Energy, Information, Postal and Allied Services Union (CEPU) has today been ordered by the Federal Court to pay $445,000 in penalties relating to multiple contraventions of the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009 (the RO Act).
The Court found that the CEPU contravened the RO Act on 86 occasions between March 2015 and May 2017:
- on four occasions by failing to keep accurate lists of its offices and office holders; and
- on 82 occasions by failing to lodge notifications of changes about offices and office holders within the prescribed time, including on 9 occasions in not notifying the changes prior to the commencement of the court proceedings.
The Court found that the contraventions were widespread across all three of the CEPU’s Divisions, across six states and one territory and extended over a considerable period of time despite ongoing reminders and warnings being provided by the regulator about the CEPU’s obligations, including specific advice that conscious decisions to contravene provisions of the RO Act would be met with an appropriate regulatory response.
The RO Act requires federally registered employer and employee organisations to keep accurate lists of offices and office holders and to lodge details of these with the ROC either annually, or whenever circumstances change.
The CEPU admitted all but four of the contraventions prior to trial, but argued that “either no or a very low pecuniary penalty should be imposed”. The ROC submitted that “a penalty at the lower end of the mid range is warranted”. The Court, in generally accepting the ROC’s characterisation of the seriousness of the contraventions and courses of conduct, imposed a total penalty of $445,000, being about 25% of the available maximum penalties.
The Court took into account that the CEPU did not admit the contraventions as early as it could and waited more than a year before putting in place its system of compliance. However, the Court credited the CEPU and its National Secretary, Mr Alan Hicks, for the reforms and changes ultimately put in place by the CEPU to ensure its reporting was more effective, which has subsequently resulted in a high level of compliance acknowledged and welcomed by the ROC. The Court noted that other organisations who may have contravened provisions of the RO Act that do not seek to address the reasons for non-compliance in the same manner as the CEPU in this case may warrant the imposition of greater penalties.
This case is important because proper record-keeping enables, among other things, members of an organisation, the public and the regulator to identify the offices in an organisation and the relevant officials who have or are exercising the powers and duties of those offices. These legislative requirements underpin the democratic functioning and control of organisations which is a key objective of the RO Act. Compliance with these requirements is important to ensure high standards of accountability of organisations and their office holders to their members.
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