ABCC Chief Urged To Resign After Admitting Fair Work Breach
Australian Building and Construction Commissioner Nigel Hadgkiss has sparked fresh union calls for his resignation after admitting he contravened the Fair Work Act, did not read legislation and ignored staff concerns.
In an embarrassment to the Coalition, Mr Hadgkiss, who is paid $426,160 a year, will face a civil penalty hearing in the Federal Court on Friday after the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union took legal action that led to his admissions.
ACTU secretary Sally McManus joined the CFMEU to demand Employment Minister Michaelia Cash sack Mr Hadgkiss, given “he has broken laws he was supposed to enforce” and the minister continually urged action against unions for not upholding the rule of law.
In a 25-page agreed statement of facts tendered yesterday, Mr Hadgkiss admitted in December 2013 he directed that looming changes to right-of-entry laws — beneficial to unions — not be published by the agency.
The right-of-entry changes were passed by the previous Labor government and applied from January 1, 2014.
Mr Hadgkiss said the newly elected Coalition government intended to repeal them so they did not need to be published. They were never repealed.
Before the amendments, a union official had to follow a reasonable request by an employer about where they could hold site discussions with workers.
Under the ALP changes, the employer was no longer authorised to give such a request. If no agreement could be reached, the official could meet workers in their meal room for discussion. Mr Hadgkiss met two senior agency staff and directed no changes be made to agency educational material, including a fact sheet, poster and pocket guide, to reflect the new law.
In the statement, Mr Hadgkiss admitted he had not read the fact sheet, poster or pocket guide prior to reviewing them for the purpose of the current court case. Nor was he aware of their specific content.
He admitted he had not studied the right-of-entry amendments or the amending act but relied on media reports and commentary at the time to get an understanding of the nature of the amendments.
Staff were told they should provide advice to industry participants about the changes only if directly asked, and presentations should not include slides about them.
In January 2014, agency executive Jeff Radisich asked Adam Copp, its director of stakeholder engagement, when the repeal would occur. “I thought we would be stuck with these provisions until the Senate changeover in July,’’ he wrote.
“If that’s the case, we are running something of a political and industrial risk by withholding info on the law as it currently stands.”
Mr Copp replied: “To be honest, I do share your concerns and talked to Nigel about it last year.
“However, he was absolutely adamant that he didn’t want us to change anything as the government intention is to change the legislation. He said he was extremely comfortable handling it in (Senate) estimates or the media or wherever. He felt pretty strongly about it.”
Mr Hadgkiss eventually directed the fact sheet, poster and pocket guide be withdrawn last July after CFMEU construction secretary Dave Noonan wrote to him, saying they misrepresented the requirements of the Fair Work Act.
Mr Hadgkiss, who faces a maximum $12,600 penalty, and Senator Cash refused to comment as the matter was before the courts.