Boral CEO Mike Kane: Anti-worker, can't accept election result

Published: 20 Feb 2015

(Opinion piece by CFMEU Secretary John Setka, which appeared in Australian Financial Review 20/2/15)

It seems that newspaper editors deem it highly newsworthy every time Boral CEO Mike Kane gets angry because he doesn’t get his way.

Yet again, we are treated to a front page article in the Australian Financial Review detailing his anger that the Victorian State Government has decided to do away with the Construction Code Compliance unit. Putting aside the cultural cringe – that every view Mike Kane expresses must be treated with absolute seriousness because he is an American - more importantly, he seems to have a problem with the democratic process.

Anti-union Liberals dumped
Perhaps it has escaped Mr Kane’s attention but there was an election in Victoria in November last year, where voters threw out the previous government. This clearly shows that the majority of Victorians didn’t agree with their policies and wanted a different government. This is despite the fact that the Liberal Party ran a negative, fear based campaign based on the CFMEU – which obviously failed. The public didn’t buy it.

Hand in glove with Tony Abbott, the Napthine Government and the Liberal Party spent a lot of time and money attempting to smear the union with unfounded allegations while at the same time, introducing laws that curtailed our ability to organise on site.

Attack on workers' rights
The Construction Code Compliance Unit was set up by the former Liberal Government – not to investigate crime – but to put one more obstacle in the union’s path in our attempt to do our job and represent workers in the industry. It is stating the bleeding obvious to say the Code Compliance Unit was a blunt political tool. There was no function to it other than that.

It is part of the Liberals’ industrial relations program – of which they make no secret – to dismantle workers’ rights and conditions. They want a return to WorkChoices. They argue that workers in our industry have it too good, while developers and multinational companies are reporting record profits.

They allege that the union is corrupt and criminal, but cannot point to any concrete evidence. They accuse regulators of not doing their job when they don’t find in favour of big business, but remain silent when corporate Australia engages in illegal, corrupt behavior.

Double standard
A recent addition to the long list of corporate skullduggery that includes Leighton and Walton Construction is the Manildra group who were recently listed as donors to the Liberal party to the tune of $420,000. Two weeks ago, CFMEU organisers in NSW, in the course of doing their job, uncovered that the company was employing foreign workers for $4 an hour while forcing them to live in cramped conditions.

We are still waiting for someone in the Liberal Government to express their outrage.

We know that Mr Kane does not approve of the laws in this country. He was given 45 minutes, uninterrupted, at the Royal Commission in which to extoll his political views on the limitations of the Australian legal system, comparing us to the US and asserting we needed to look at mimicking their way of doing business.

He has also been given plenty of space in the electronic and print media to air his grievances. The matter between Boral and the CFMEU is before the courts, but Mr Kane seems insistent on putting us through a trial by media, grabbing every opportunity to vent and slander the union with accusations that we are ‘crooks’ and ‘thugs’.

Mr Kane’s assertion that the union and Mr Andrews are in ‘lockstep with each other’ is simply a leftover from the Liberal’s failed campaign in the state election.

But for the record, our wish list for the industry to any government includes addressing the chronic underpayments of workers, curbing sham contracting, stopping the abuse of 457 visas, changing the laws to prevent phoenix companies, increasing training opportunities and apprenticeships, better safety standards on all sites and more serious penalties when a worker is killed.

I think Mr Kane will find that most of the community is in ‘lockstep’ with us on these issues, but most of the community doesn’t have the leverage to make their views known as loudly and prominently as Mr Kane.

When they were given the chance at the election, the community were pretty clear and pretty loud. They rejected the anti worker policies of the Liberal Government, including the Code Compliance Unit.

It’s called democracy.