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.”