The head of the national regulator for industrial relations within the building and construction industry in Australia has gone following allegations that his agency continued to publish misleading information about union rights of entry for two years despite being aware that the information did not represent the correct information.
In a significant win for construction industry unions, Employment Minister Michaela Cash announced that the government had accepted the resignation of Australian Building and Construction Commission director Nigel Hadgkiss.
“Mr Nigel Hadgkiss APM has today tendered his resignation as Commissioner of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, which has been accepted by the Government,” Cash said in a statement.
The calls come after Hadgkiss admitted in an agreed statement of facts handed to the Federal Court that he had refused to update posters and information sheets published by the regulator which gave misleading information about union right of entry to employers.
From January 1, 2014 to July 2016, the ABCC published downloadable posters and fact sheets on its website that advised employers that union officials "must comply with your reasonable requests" over which areas they could use to hold discussions with workers.
However, the CFMEU had pointed out that new right of entry laws introduced by the previous Labour government which had come into effect on January 1,2014, did not carry any such requirement and gave unions a default right to use the lunchroom to meet with workers if they could not agree on a location with the employer.
Despite this, However, Hadgkiss refused to update the materials to reflect the correct position as the incoming Coalition government had indicated it would seek to reverse Labour’s new laws by February that year.
According to the union, the laws are important in order to prevent workers from being intimidated by being forced to hold discussions with their union representative in clear view of their employer.
The resignation is a victory for the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, who accuses Hadgkiss of ramping up harassment of workers and unions whilst ignoring breaches of workplace laws from employers.
“Nigel Hadgkiss is anti-workers and his departure will be welcomed by our members,” a statement on the CFMEU’s web site read.
Earlier, union secretary Dave Noonan had called for Hadgkiss to go.
“Mr Hadgkiss’s position as a regulator is compromised and untenable, and he should resign immediately,” Noonan said prior to the departure.
“Nigel Hadgkiss has admitted that his conduct was reckless. We believe the result of that recklessness is that the industry was misled on a key issue affecting workers’ rights.”
“He has taken great care to bring multiple prosecutions against unions and workers over right of entry breaches, but has failed to conduct himself with reasonable care in relation to these same laws, and in particular those parts of the laws which extend some benefit or protection to workers.”
ACTU Secretary Sally McManus agrees.
“Mr Hadgkiss obeyed the dictates of his political masters, Prime Minister Turnbull and Employment Minister Michaelia Cash, through ongoing attacks against working people and in the end he not only stepped over the line he set up camp there for two years,” McManus said in a statement.
“As head of the ABCC, he oversaw a draconian and authoritarian body that breached Australia’s international obligations, persecuted workers and stripped away the right of silence from ordinary hard working Australians.”
“Mr Hadgkiss was an important part of the Turnbull Governments anti-worker agenda. He was the Turnbull Governments hand-picked, ideological cop who was given enormous licence to go after working people.”
“Working people will rightly enjoy the professional demise of a person who has made no secret of his agenda to reduce their working conditions.”
But the government and industry groups paid tribute to Hadgkiss for what they said was his role in restoring law and order to the building sector.
Having previously been employed as director of the ABCC under the Howard era, Hadgkiss was reappointed to the role of what was then Fair Work Building and Construction following the election of the Abbott government in 2013.
Following this, Hadgkiss refocused the agency with a stronger emphasis upon enforcement and ramped up the agency’s investigation and enforcement actions.
In 2015/16, the agency secured more than $1.826 million in fines and penalties (mostly against the CFMEU) – up from $1.396 million the year before.
Penalties secured for right of entry breaches rose from $359,700 in 2014/15 to $915,050 in 2015/16.
The resignation comes as the Federal Court imposed maximum penalties of more than $1 million against the CFMEU for unlawful conduct at the Barangaroo site in Sydney and referred union officials to the DPP for investigation into false testimony.
In a statement, Cash paid tribute to Hadgkiss.
“Mr Hadgkiss has played a pivotal role in restoring the rule of law to Australia’s building and construction industry, despite relentless opposition and appalling intimidation from lawless construction unions and their political supporters,” Cash said.
“The Government thanks Mr Hadgkiss for his service and wishes him well in his future endeavours”.
Master Builders Australia chief executive officer Denita Warn agrees.
“Mr Hadgkiss has played a crucial role over many years in combatting the thuggery and unlawful conduct of the building unions particularly the CFMEU including in his previous roles as Director of Building Industry Taskforce and Director of Fair Work Building and Construction,” Warn said in a statement.
“Today’s record penalties imposed on the CFMEU over its conduct and that of its officials including its New South Wales State Secretary highlight both the substance of Mr Hadgkiss work as Commissioner of the ABCC and the need for it to continue under his successor.”
“Master Builders recognises Nigel’s tireless contribution in working to change these union’s entrenched culture of unlawfulness in the interests of the Australian community.”