The boss of the nation’s biggest building union has hit out at a media report about union conduct on construction sites, accusing the report of playing down safety issues and expressing concern about the possibility that information surrounding allegations which may be aired in upcoming hearings at the Royal Commission into union corruption may have been leaked to the media.
In an interview with the ABC’s John Fane on Thursday, Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) National Secretary Dave Noonan slammed a report in The Age alleging that current Victorian CFMEU boss (and then Assistant Secretary) John Setka coerced Peter Chiavaroli, the developer of the old Pentridge Prison site in the suburb of Coburg in Melbourne’s north, to employ his brother in law Anton Sucic in 2009 as a shop steward as part of a campaign to unionise the site, and that unions used backroom dealings to bully workers into joining and pressure managers into coercing non-members to join.
Noonan acknowledged that Setka had arranged Sucic’s appointment, but said this had been done in the interests of safety after the death of a worker, and that Sucic was the right man for the job.
“I think it is certainly true that Mr Setka arranged for a job at the Pentridge site for Mr Sucic who is a friend of his,” Noonan said on the program.
“Mr Sucic is also an experienced construction worker with over 20 years’ experience, a registered builder and is trained in occupational health and safety. And as The Age note only in passing, this followed the tragic death of a worker on the construction site at Pentridge. And this is a situation where the union has insisted that steps be taken to make what was a grossly unsafe site safe.
“It is astonishing in the video that I have just watched this morning (on the Fairfax site) that Mr Mackenzie from Fairfax appears to regard the death of the worker as of less significance than the fact that the union took steps to make the site safe.
“We make no apologies for that.”
Whilst acknowledging that it was not certain that information surrounding the Royal Commission had been leaked to the media, Noonan said it would be concerning if this was the case.
“A Royal Commission, a very powerful body with coercive powers, in our view ought not be leaking material to media outlets prior to the hearings,” Noonan said.
“Now, we don’t know if that’s the case. We are concerned that it is the case, and some questions need to be asked about why we see evidence, so-called evidence, running up before a hearing.”
But State Attorney General and Minister for Industrial Relations Robert Clark said the issues raised in the latest report were merely the latest in a long-running series of allegations surrounding union behaviour within the industry.
“We’ve seen it back with the desalination plant,” Clarke said. “We’ve seen it with the Supreme Court’s findings of criminal misconduct and criminal contempt of the Supreme Court.”
“At the end of the day, this needs to be dealt with. Victoria cannot suffer the ongoing problems that we’ve seen in the building and construction industry.”