Masking Legitimate Rights as Blackmail

The laying of very serious criminal charges against union officials over alleged industrial activity should be a matter of deep concern for every union, every unionist, and every democratic-minded Australian in this country.

Most people think blackmail is about someone seeking personal gain by threatening someone else.

But the police do not allege that John Setka and Shaun Reardon were seeking any personal gain. The prosecution’s case is based on alleged industrial demands that the police say amounted to blackmail.

If alleged industrial threats without any personal gain is blackmail, then any threat of industrial action in any dispute is potentially blackmail as well. If that’s right, it means that decent unionists working hard every day around Australia to defend and improve their members’ wages, conditions, workplace safety and rights are potentially at risk.

According to the Abbott-Turnbull royal commission and their anti-union police taskforce, that is the world we’re living in.

Looking for excuses to turn back time

The union movement has always said that the book should be thrown at any corrupt officials. But the anti-union royal commission has referred a number of officials to prosecution authorities over allegations of run-of-the-mill industrial disputation and organising activity.

In the ACT, we saw CFMEU organiser Johnny Lomax charged with blackmail by the antiunion police taskforce because he sought higher wages for his members during enterprise bargaining. That case was dropped, but it was a taste of things to come under the Abbott-Turnbull government.

This is all a case of back to the future. The government wants to turn the clock back to the 1800s when all workers’ industrial action, all workplace organising and all union activity were crimes.

From the 1800s, workers and unions have fought to ensure that we have the right to join a union, to take industrial action, to bargain collectively, to work safely and for our representatives to be free to do their jobs.

We will defend those rights, no matter how many times they are attacked.

The whole union movement is supporting John Setka and Shaun Reardon, who have always stood strong for workplace safety, higher wages and better working conditions. 


  • Laying more criminal charges over the 187 workers killed at work in Australia in 2015 alone.
  • Calling for more criminal charges against bosses who endanger workers’ lives by cutting corners on workplace safety to increase profits.
  • Demanding that theft charges be laid against bosses who underpay workers.
  • Charging a single boss with blackmail over threatening to unfairly dismiss a worker if he or she doesn’t do what the company wants.
  • Charging a single boss of a big company with blackmail over threatening to ditch a contractor or supplier unless they lower their prices.
  • Arresting a single boss on a Sunday morning driving home from the market with his wife and small children.