CFMEU accused of covering up a safety incident

Mar 18 2019

 A construction worker is alleging the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union helped cover up a safety incident at a Multiplex site as part of its close relationship with the builder.

 
Tradesman John Tyson, a key witness to an incident where a worker fell and broke his leg at Multiplex's $1 billion Jewel apartment project on the Gold Coast, has made the claims as part of unlawful termination case against his employer Heiko, a related entity of Heinrich Constructions.
 
He alleges the CFMEU falsified a report of the accident, failed to interview him as the only witness, helped alter the accident area before safety inspectors arrived and then threatened him when he continued to raise concerns.
 
Construction worker John Tyson says he was "shocked" when he heard a CFMEU incident report of an on-site accident as it was "completely untrue". Paul Harris
 
The claims up-end the traditional image of the CFMEU, which has used safety to justify its militant behaviour and to aggressively pursue employers.
 
Senior CFMEU state officials are expected to be called to give evidence in the case, which involves compensation claims totaling almost $1.8 million.
 
In an affidavit filed in the Federal Circuit Court last month, Mr Tyson alleged the accident occurred after Multiplex had already been fined for safety breaches, including for workers hanging over the side of a building.
 
"It was generally known on site that anyone who reports safety breaches like that would run the risk that they would be terminated," his affidavit said.
 
Multiplex had a close relationship with the CFMEU at the time, paying union employees to act as on-site delegates, and the Jewel project was considered a union "EBA job".
 
Mr Tyson claimed on September 25, 2017, he witnessed Heinrich carpenter Jason Whittle fall over after a wall gave way, causing his leg to get caught in exposed concrete reinforcing steel.
 
As work was suspended and workers headed to the sheds, he says he saw a Multiplex employee with a wheelbarrow, rake and shovel approaching the accident area and say he was going "to clean it up".
 
After leaving the sheds an hour later, he claims he saw several Multiplex and Heinrich employees, as well as a CFMEU official, cleaning and altering the accident site.
 
The next day the site looked "very different", with debris and rubbish removed, the wall smoothed out and access areas cleared, his affidavit says.
 
When CFMEU delegates read out the incident report at a union meeting, Mr Tyson says he was "shocked" as it was "completely untrue and not what I had witnessed".
 
The report claimed Mr Whittle had slipped on a rock while walking down into the trench and that was how he ended up at the bottom.
 
Mr Tyson told the union meeting "that's not how it went down" and said he had not been called to give a statement despite telling union delegates he was the "only witness".
 
Employees at the meeting "erupted" after he spoke, Mr Tyson claimed, "banging on the tables and yelling aggressively at the CFMEU delegates".
 
"The delegates ran out of the room," according to his affidavit.
 
'We'll bash you c--t'
 
He quit the union in protest and continued to raise his concerns about the Whittle incident over the next several months.
 
During that time, he claims "heavyweight" CFMEU officials tried to pressure him to rejoin the union.
 
"I had concerns they would physically harm me and I was frightened and very concerned that I would be forced into a physically threatening situation that had many implications," he claimed.
 
In March 2018, he emailed senior CFMEU officials about his concerns over safety on the project.
 
A CFMEU official allegedly confronted him about the email later that day and another allegedly called him a "f----g dog" on the phone, yelling "we'll bash you c--t. You don't know what you've done".
 
Mr Tyson also raised his views at a union meeting attended by a senior CFMEU official on April 27.
 
Later that day a Heinrich manager called him into his office and said if he didn't want to pay his union fees there were "other jobs out there".
 
Mr Tyson was finally dismissed on May 11 after the Gold Coast Bulletin published an article raising worker concerns that the union was "too close" to Multiplex and that an accident area had been cleaned up before WorkSafe inspectors could examine it.
 
On the day the article was published, a senior CFMEU official allegedly came up to Mr Tyson and called him a "f-----g dog".
 
He was dismissed the next day with eight other employees and his termination notice recorded the reason as "lack of work".
 
Mr Tyson is arguing he was really fired because he exercised his workplace right to complain to the CFMEU about the Whittle incident, or because he quit the union.
 
He claims he has applied for 130 jobs since his termination but had not been successful in obtaining employment.
 
The CFMEU declined to comment. In a statement to the Gold Coast Bulletin at the time, it said "any allegation that this union is in the pocket of Multiplex is farcical, and not supported by facts".
 
Heiko has denied the allegations and says it terminated Mr Tyson's employment "due to a shortage of work and for no other reason".
 
Multiplex said "the incident referenced was reported and investigated in accordance with WorkSafe  procedures and our own safety protocols".
 
"We strongly encourage all workers to report any incidents on our sites," a spokesman said.
 
"There are no instances where a worker has been disciplined by us as a result of reporting an incident."
 
The court is expected to set a trial date for the case next month.
 
Source: Financial Review

Last changed: Mar 18 2019 at 9:37 AM

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