The building industry watchdog is pursuing senior Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union officials, including a former Labor Left powerbroker, for allegedly refusing to obey what they described as “bullshit law” on federally-funded construction work and repeatedly abusing a human resources manager.
The Australian Building and Construction Commission launched legal action this week against CFMEU Tasmanian president Kevin Harkins for breaching right-of-entry laws and accused branch secretary Ritchie Hassett of acting improperly by calling the manager an “incompetent dick f–k” and repeatedly claiming he wore a toupee.
Court documents said Mr Harkins warned contractor Hazell Bros in October 2016 that “my boss is bigger than your boss” after its managers refused him access to a $22 million roadwork project for Hobart’s Brooker Highway, funded by state and federal governments.
The company’s HR manager had told Mr Harkins, who did not have a federal entry permit, he had to provide 24-hours notice as per the building code if he wished to enter and talk to workers about a new agreement.
Mr Harkins allegedly responded “you know we don’t do that” and said “this is a bullshit law and why would we comply with it?”
“We can get around it. We can be a pain in the arse”.
‘You don’t want to get on the bad list’
Mr Harkins’ colleague Mr Hassett then allegedly told the manager “we don’t recognise the code” and warned him “you don’t want to get on the bad list”.
The next week the two officials entered the site without permission, and claimed they had found leaking toilets, water on the lunch room floor and a switchboard that was an “imminent threat to safety”.
The ABCC is alleging the two officials breached right of entry laws and singled out Mr Hassett for his “insulting, demeaning, indecent and profane language” and acting in “an aggressive manner”.
Mr Hassett allegedly abused the HR manager repeatedly by calling him “a stupid c–t”, a “stupid HR dickhead” and “incompetent dick f–k Johnnie”.
At several points, Mr Hassett commented that the manager’s hair looked the same all the time and allegedly told him “I bet your hair is a toupee”.
Mr Hassett’s language even prompted Mr Harkins to caution the branch secretary to “watch some words in your language a bit. There are some women here”.
But Mr Hassett continued despite objections, the ABCC claimed, and his abuse “disrupted work” and caused distress among staff.
‘Disendorsed’ ALP candidate
Mr Harkins is a former head of Unions Tasmania and has twice tried to run as an ALP Senate candidate.
However, he was forced to withdraw following pressure from the national executive, including when former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd referred to him in 2007 as a “pugilist” with “Buckley’s chance” of preselection.
Last week, Mr Harkins announced a new CFMEU template agreement for Tasmania which proposed pay rises for workers of 23 per cent over four years.
The CFMEU declined to comment on the allegations. The officials face penalties of up to $10,800 per breach, with the union facing maximum fines of $54,000 per breach.