Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) commissioner Nigel Hadgkiss has resigned after conceding that he misrepresented union rights, in breach of the Fair Work Act.
Employment minister Michaelia Cash says she accepted his resignation and “wishes him well in his future endeavours”.
“Mr Hagdkiss will serve a two-week transition period to facilitate a handover of his responsibilities to an acting commissioner,” she said.
The ABCC is the controversial building industry watchdog that led to the double dissolution election last year after the Senate rejected the government’s plan to reinstate the Commission.
Hadgkiss could be facing large fines after he admitted yesterday that he misrepresented union rights to employers via material on the ABCC website for more than two years between 2014 and 2016.
The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) launched Federal Court legal action against Hadgkiss over the claims and the outgoing commissioner will face court on Friday, facing fines of $12,600 for individual breaches, after submitting a statement of facts on the issue to the court yesterday.
The matter concerns changes to “right of entry” laws for union officials made by the Labor government before it lost power in September 2013. The changes came into effect from January 2014, but in December 2013, Hadgkiss directed the changes should not be published by the agency, believing that they would be changed by the new Liberal government.
Despite being warned by senior staff that there were legal risks to withholding the information, which took away an employer’s ability to force union officials to comply with “reasonable requests” about where they could meet workers.
The ABCC had downloadable posters and fact sheets on its website between January 2014 and July 2016 that said union officials “must comply” with employer requests about where to hold meetings, when the Labor law gave union bosses the power to meet with employees to meet with employees in the lunchroom if agreement could not be found on a suitable location.
The Labor amendments are still in place.
CFMEU national secretary, Dave Noonan began pressing immediately for Hadgkiss to resign comparing it to the head of the ACCC breaching the Corporations Act, but Coalition senator Erica Abetz, who was employment minister at the time, called the matter “hyperbole”.
“This suggestion that a regulator not updating a fact-sheet amounts to breaking the law is just the latest round of pathetic hyperbole from a union that is constantly found by the courts to have actually broken the law,” Abetz said.
The loss of Hadgkiss for a breach of the Fair Work Act is a major embarrassment for the Turnbull government and the authority of the commission charged with overseeing union behaviour in the construction industry.
But the CFMEU is facing its own problems after the Federal Court referred four officials, including NSW secretary, Brian Parker, to the Director of Public Prosecutions for allegedly giving false testimony over a unlawful industrial action at Sydney’s Barangaroo development in 2014. The alleged false testimony occurred during proceedings before the ABCC.
The union and its officials are also facing fines of more than $2.4 million in total.
The Australian reports Justice Geoffrey Flick said it was “not possible to envisage worse union behaviour” and ordered a maximum penalty of $1.3 million be imposed on the CFMEU, 75% of the maximum on the NSW branch. The four officials also face combined fines of more than $160,000.
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