Death company drives anti-union campaign

EXTREMISTS are using a construction company convicted over a “tragic” but “preventable” workplace death to spearhead their campaign to de-unionise ACT workplaces.

Canberra Contractors was convicted and fined $82,500 in the ACT Supreme Court in January over the 2011 death of experienced construction worker, husband and father, Wayne Vickery.

Justice John Burns described Vickery’s death as “tragic” but his penalty was labelled “inadequate” by both ACT Work Safety Commissioner Mark McCabe and CFMEU branch secretary, Dean Hall.

It was handed down barely two months after the company’s role in a shady campaign to sideline the construction union was exposed in the Fair Work Commission (FWC).

Last November, the commission heard Canberra Contractors, backed by the ACT branch of the Master Builders Association, had misled employees and the CFMEU in a bid to get up a non-union agreement.

The union, a party to the company’s existing EBA, had asked to be present an an October meeting organised by Canberra Contractors managing director Paul Macor and the MBA, after being tipped off about wage talks.

Macor rejected the request, telling union officials EBA negotiations would not be discussed, the FWC heard.

Yet, two days later, he announced, the union would have no role in future negotiations.

“Our employees have advised us in accordance with the Fair Work Act … they wish to act as their own bargaining representatives,” the company wrote.

The commission heard Canberra Contractors was insisting its bargaining proposals be kept secret as they were “commercial-in-confidence” and that several of the 20-plus union members it employed felt they had been duped.

“We were asked to sign a document they (Macor and MBA reps) said allowed us to be members of a consultative committee,” CFMEU official, Dusty Miller, said members had reported.

Instead, the form actually nominated employees as bargaining reps, effectively sidelining their union.

Miller said members insisted they still wanted the CFMEU to represent them in negotiations.

He revealed members had showed him typed up union resignation letters that had been pinned under his business card in their smoko room

The CFMEU provided the FWC with signed requests for ongoing union representation in EBA negotiations and sought confidentiality for members who had provided them.

One of the employer “bargaining representatives” elected at the Canberra Contractors/MBA meeting formally asked the union to direct all communications with him through the MBA which is, of course, the peak employer organisation.

CFMEU national secretary Dave Noonan said that was “final proof of just how dodgy the whole stunt was”.

Noonan said an “underhanded campaign to deunionise workplaces” was a logical follow-up to last year’s hearings of the trade union royal commission in Canberra.

“Basically, the royal commission gave the ideologues at the MBA a platform to run their agenda,” Noonan said.

“Essentially, its Canberra hearings were devoted to making an argument that effective unionism should be outlawed so employers are free to cut living standards and reduce safety protections.

“It is hardly surprising that they chose Canberra Contractors to drive that campaign for them.”

Indeed, the company’ is part of a concerted MBA push to get ACT construction workers to ditch their unions and trust future wages, conditions and safety to employer-backed representatives.

The MBA has produced a glossy flier for employees, Busting The Myths About EBAs, that argues they would be better off without union representation.

The three “myths” the MBA sets out to bust – that union EBAs deliver better results (for workers); union sites are safer; and that unions act in the best interests of workers – sound like they were lifted straight out of one of royal commission senior counsel Jeremy Stoljar’s opening addresses.

And, some of the leaflet’s supporting arguments have a decidedly Stoljarine whiff about them, including unsupported claims that …

-    CFMEU-negotiated agreements threaten job security

-    employer payments for things like superannuation and insurance premiums are, somehow, a “tax” on employees’ wages, and

-    if workers were to agree to company-specific EBAs they would no longer “need to pay the CFMEU”.

Fair Work Commissioner Wilson recommended that Canberra Contractors recognise the CFMEU as the bargaining representative for its members.

 

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