Wednesday 18th Jul, 2018

Employers ask Fair Work to reconsider mega-union

MUA members voting for a merger with the CFMEU. Photo: MUA
Photo: MUA

Employer groups are hoping an appeal can break up the newly-formed Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union, after the Turnbull Government failed in a late push to block the merger in the Senate.

The merger of two of Australia’s toughest worker unions – the Maritime Union of Australia and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union – became official on March 27, after it was approved by the Fair Work Commission on March 6.

The new union, dubbed the CFMMEU, combines for roughly 142,000 members, $143 million in annual income, and $300 million in assets.

But employer groups, including the Australian Mines and Metals Association and the Master Builders Association, believe they can still undo the merger through a Fair Work appeal.

“We remain committed to the national interest and believe there are strong legal grounds to overturn this merger within the current laws,” AMMA boss Steve Knott was quoted as saying by AFR.

“The onus is now on the CFMEU and MUA in the meantime to demonstrate that it can in fact be law-abiding citizens and act in the interests of their members and the nation, not against them.”

Both unions are considered to be among Australia’s most notorious for bending and breaking the law, often in an effort to secure better pay and conditions for their members.

The CFMEU is currently facing 36 cases for workplace breaches, and has been fined almost $5 million in FY18 alone. The MUA is currently facing around $28 million in claims.

The Turnbull Government looked to block the merger last year, tabling legislation to require a public-interest test be conducted before unions with a history of lawlessness would be allowed to merge – a test which would likely be designed to ensure the MUA and CFMEU could not pass it.

But the legislation stalled in Parliament, leading to a last-ditch effort earlier this month to tinker with its wording to allow the test to take place after the Fair Work Commission had made its decision, but before the merger was formally ratified.

The Coalition was unable to get the numbers it needed in the Senate to pass the new Bill in time, however.

“After saying nothing about workplace relations in the last election campaign, and demoting it to the outer ministry last year, this feeds into the perception of some in the business community that the Turnbull Government has given up on shaping our workplace relations system,” Knott was quoted as saying.

The next hope for employers is an appeal of the Fair Work Commission’s decision, which will be heard on April 9 before a FWC full bench.

FWC vice-president Adam Hatcher was quoted earlier in March saying the appeal had “some prospects of success,” and would be able to legally undo the union merger.