The South Australian head of a major construction industry lobby group has hit out at comments by the new head of the peak union body in Australia which he says indicate an acceptance of disregard for the law.

Responding to comments by new Australian Council of Trade Unions Secretary Sally McManus which appear to encourage law breaking where rules are seen to be unfair, Master Builders SA Chief Executive Officer Ian McManus said the comments represented a ‘rejection of democracy’ and ‘cast a long shadow over the entire union movement’.

“What McManus effectively said is it is acceptable for any party to ignore laws they disagree with. By extension, that would include ignoring award rates and safety laws – a position Master Builders SA wholeheartedly rejects,” Markos said.

“Those laws are there for good reasons, whether it be to protect lives or to protect people against union thuggery.”

Master Builders Australia Chief Executive Officer Wilhelm Harnisch agrees, saying that any changes to the law should be made through proper democratic means.

“The comments of Sally McManus, newly appointed Secretary of the ACTU, show utter contempt for the foundations that have made Australia great and should stand condemned,” Harnisch said.

“The comments fail the test of leadership and a very worrying sign that the CFMEU has captured the ACTU’s agenda. Australians know that the places for laws to be changed are at the ballot box and in the Parliament. The community deserves better from its union leaders.”

The latest row follows a statement issued yesterday McManus yesterday in which she indicated that a significant number of rights which workers now enjoy were earned through actions which were considered to be a violation of laws at the time – a statement which employer groups are saying shows contempt for the law.

“Australia has been built by working people who have had the courage to stand up to unfair and unjust rules and demand something better,” McManus wrote.

“Every single Australian benefits from superannuation, Medicare, the weekend and minimum wages —these were all won by our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents taking non-violent so-called illegal industrial action.”

“Working people only take these measures when the issue is one of justice, like ensuring workers’ safety on worksites, a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work or to uphold and improve rights for working people.”

In her statement, McManus wrote that without the union movement, Australia would look like the United States, where she says many of the protections which workers consider to be basic rights in Australia are either inadequate or don’t exist.

Rather than focus on unions, McManus says the government should focus on what she says is ‘rampant lawlessness’ from employers in terms of issues such as worker underpayments, exploitation of workers on foreign visas and practices which jeopardise safety.

The ACTU did not respond to requests seeking clarification on McManus’ statement and whether or not she was indeed indicating the union movement’s acceptance of unlawful behaviour.

Nevertheless, she told the ABC’s 7:30 program last night that that she believed in the rule of law when it is ‘fair and right’ but ‘when it’s unjust I don’t think there’s a problem with breaking it’.

Markos says the comments hark back to earlier comments by Victorian CFMEU boss John Setka, who boasted before a rally in Melbourne about how he told Murray Gregor from the ABCC to ‘go and **** yourself’ when informed by Gregor that CFMEU members were more than likely breaking the law through holding a rally in Melbourne.

At that rally, Setka also suggested that he does not adhere to right of entry laws to give 24 hours’ notice with regard to right of entry laws on the grounds that doing so would compromise safety.

Markos says McManus’ position is disappointing.

“Some of the greatest economic reforms resulted from the strong cooperation that led to the modernisation of Australia’s economy in the 1980s and 1990s. When the contemporaries of one of those parties that led to essential reform – the union movement – says it endorses the breaking of laws, what hope do we have of achieving a stronger economic future for all families?”

“The Australian public and the building and construction industry that works with them deserve and need people focusing on building future opportunities, not breaking laws.”

  • Recent media reports identified large builder/developers and one peak industry association donating approximately $350,000 to the Liberal and One Nation party not long before the passage of the ABCC Bill in the federal Parliament . The Australian Financial Review not long after reported unrest among some Tier1 builders about the MBA's involvement and possible related unauthorised expenditure. I also note in your pages that MBA have appointed a new CEO.
    I agree with McManus in one sense regarding exploitation – the government should focus on the exploitation of building industry subcontractors whose payment problems in this industry are well documented. That exploitation amounts to $18 billion lost to pre-planned insolvency and the wrongful withholding of money .

    I would like to know if the MBA considers the rampant non-payment of industry small business who comprise 85% of the industry is legal? Why do the MBA oppose the use of properly designed construction trusts to secure their payment? There appears to be a complete misunderstanding of just how this industry works; a complete misunderstanding of the significant fraud perpetrated on innocent small business that is being ignored. The facts are there and the significant damage evident and reported but everybody chooses to ignore the problems and by doing so are supporting Australia's great shame. Amazing isn't it that a brand new Senator can support the ABCC Bill in one form and 5 minutes later change his mind and vote another that supports the original position

    So called peak industry groups or the "CI old boys clubs" are a blight on the industry and their damaging influence over this industry needs similar scrutiny to that given to the unions. There also has to be serious consideration given to outlawing political donation – it is a legalised form of corruption and is damaging Australian society and democracy. The results are evident there as well – why should we be accepting of it.

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