ACCI responds to media reports into CFMEU

Event: ACCI chief executive officer Andrew McKellar press conference at Parliament House, Canberra

Date: Monday 15 July 2024

Topics: CFMEU; US political situation


Andrew McKellar:

Clearly there are very, very serious allegations that have been raised. Investigations by the media agencies raise fundamental questions. I think it’s well established that the CFMEU over a long period of time has consistently shown an inclination to operate outside of the rules of the industrial relations system. And there are a number of court cases, legal actions, which have demonstrated that the allegations of criminal connections and impropriety. These are very serious. They raise the concerns to a new level, and we are calling on the federal government to take decisive action here. We think that at a minimum, an independent high level judicial inquiry is warranted with all of the powers of a Royal Commission.

We can’t stand idly by and see such significant concerns being swept under the carpet. There are major issues for state governments. There are major issues in the building and construction industry, which can’t be ignored. I think what the recent allegations show is that the abolition of the ABCC was a terrible mistake. That longstanding behavior of the CFMEU ignoring the rules, the operation of law and practice in the industrial relations system, demonstrates that they can only be held to account if there’s a powerful, well-resourced independent regulator that can bring them to book and hold them into account as often as possible. Beyond that, the criminal allegations are very serious, and they need proper investigation.


You raised the possibility of these allegations being swept under the carpet. They’re your words. Did you have a real fear that they might be swept under the carpet and what would that look like?

Andrew McKellar:

We’ve seen a very muted response, I think, over the past day or so as these allegations that result of the investigation that have been conducted by media agencies has come to light. We’ve seen a very muted response from state governments, from Victoria and Queensland in particular. So, I think that points to the fact that we haven’t yet seen any evidence that those governments are taking these accusations, these allegations seriously. They need to do so in those circumstances. It’s really up to the federal government to ensure that there’s public confidence and that these allegations of criminality are properly tested.


It sounds like you don’t have confidence in any of those governments to do what needs to be done, fair comment or not?

Andrew McKellar:

I think so far, the reaction of some governments at the state level in particular has been puzzling. It’s been very muted. We’ve seen more evidence from the federal government expressing concern, but simply deregistering the union, simply having the national office of the CFMEU come in and take over the administration of the state division in Victoria, that’s not adequate. It needs to, public confidence needs to be restored. The only way you can do that is to have a high-level judicial inquiry with all of the powers of a Royal commission.


How concerning is that muted response from the states?

Andrew McKellar:

It’s very puzzling. These are serious allegations. They need a strong response. So, we do expect that governments should come back with a coordinated response that demonstrates that they are protecting the public interest. I mean, let’s not lose sight of the fact that some of these allegations go to the fact that there are taxpayer funds involved, public construction contracts that are involved. So clearly those issues need to be investigated. That’s why we say the federal government needs to step in, needs to take control of this issue, needs to set up a process to really address the stench that is emerging on these serious allegations.


On another front, if I might, Australian business has a critical interest in the health of the American economy and democracy, frankly. What concerns do you have representing Australian business, seeing the events of yesterday and what might unfold over the next few months?

Andrew McKellar:

Obviously, there are huge concerns. There’s a lot at stake in the forthcoming election in the United States. That’s absolutely true. I mean, the United States is the number one source of inward investment in Australia. They’re a major trading and economic partner, a major strategic partner. So, our futures are very much bound up with a strong United States, which adheres to the democratic values. So yesterday, of course, was a great concern. What was seen, I think the response of the Australian government was entirely appropriate on both sides of politics, and I think our political leaders spoke very well for the Australian community, including the business community.


What are the dangers for business in the months ahead for Australian business looking in the United States?

Andrew McKellar:

There’s obviously a lot bound up in the future of the US economy. It’s a major driver of the global economic cycle. So, ensuring that there is confidence, a strong approach to economic policy there, that’s going to be vital in terms of who forms the next administration.


One more question on that, if I might. I mean to most onlookers, Trump and Biden are very different candidates with a very different, certainly foreign policies and approach to trade. They’re two critical differences. What’s the view of Australian business on which administration better suit business interest in this country because they’re very different?

Andrew McKellar:

The business community understands that the US process is one of the most democratic in the world. So it’s up to the American people to determine the government, the administration that they elect, and obviously the business community will look to work effectively with whoever forms the next administration in the us. That’s a matter entirely for the democratic process of the American people.


Just back on the national executive taking power from the Victorian branch, do you hold any hope that that will lead to many changes?

Andrew McKellar:

Not at all. I mean, I think that’s a smokescreen, to be honest. It gives us no confidence. So, whether or not the CFMEU is being operated by the national branch, whether or not there’s a move to deregister, the CFMEU, I don’t think either of those moves have given us any level of confidence that that will address the fundamental issues we’ve seen in the past over decades. In fact, the CFMEU and its predecessors, in fact, if you go back to the time the old BLF, which was deregistered, it didn’t change the culture. The only way to address that is to have a strong effective regulator like the ABCC, which is well-resourced, which can hold these people, these organizations to account when they step outside the law. Beyond that, the issues of criminality are also much more serious, and they need a strong response as well. It doesn’t provide a long-term solution. It may well be necessary in this case, but it doesn’t give us confidence that there’s a long-term solution in the building and construction sector.

Important Update for Employers: Workplace Relations law changes from 1 July 2024

Important Update for Employers: Workplace Relations law changes from 1 July 2024

Employers need to be aware of several changes to their obligations regarding the minimum wage, superannuation and other new laws. 


National Minimum Wage

The National Minimum Wage will increase by 3.75 per cent, rising to $24.10 per hour, or $915.90 per week. This increase applies from the first full pay period starting on or after 1 July 2024. For instance, if your weekly pay period starts on Wednesday, the new rates will apply from Wednesday, 3 July 2024.

Superannuation Guarantee Rate

The superannuation guarantee rate will increase from 11 per cent to 11.5 per cent. Ensure that super contributions are paid in full, on time, and to the correct fund by 28 July.

Unfair Dismissal High-Income Threshold

The high-income threshold for unfair dismissal claims for employees not covered by an award or enterprise agreement will increase from $165,500 to $175,000. The compensation cap for unfair dismissal claims will rise from $83,750 to $87,500 (general protection claims remain uncapped).

Modern Award Delegates’ Rights Term

A workplace delegate is a person appointed or elected by a union to be a delegate or representative for union members working in a particular enterprise. All Modern Awards will include a Delegates’ Rights term from 1 July.  Such a term must be included in a workplace determination made on or after that day. Similarly, a term must be included in an enterprise agreement approved by vote on or after that day.

Right of Entry for Suspected Underpayments 

The Fair Work Commission must issue an exemption certificate to an organisation for entry where it is satisfied that a contravention or suspected contravention involves the underpayment of wages or other monetary entitlements.

ACCI members can contact the Workplace Relations team for further information.

Contact ACCI
Concern at decline in apprentices

Concern at decline in apprentices

Two things stand out when you look at the latest data on apprentice numbers from the National Centre for Vocational Education.

Firstly, the success of the Boosting Apprenticeships Commencement program before it was closed in June 2022.

The other is the reduction in apprentice numbers after the program closed.

Analysis of the 10-year time series data undertaken by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry shows that since the program closed to new entrants, over half of the progress made in boosting apprenticeship numbers between 2020 and 2022 has since reversed.

There has also been a close to nine per cent decrease from December 2022 to 2023. While there was a marginal increase in commencements in the December quarter (2.4 per cent), this is unlikely to overturn the trend.

ACCI recently submitted to the government’s 2024 Strategic Review of Apprenticeship Incentives.

We said that any reduction or removal of incentive payments to employers would have dire consequences, leading to decreased apprenticeship commencements, exacerbating skills shortages and impeding the nation’s long-term economic growth.

ACCI made several recommendations, including:

  • Direct any revenue the government receives from the Skilling Australians Fund levy to fund more apprenticeships and traineeships.
  • Postpone the planned reduction of incentives from July 2024 for one year to allow sufficient time to develop the next iteration of Australian Apprenticeship Incentives.
  • Create a five-year Job Creation Incentive program.

You can see all the recommendations by accessing ACCI’s submission here.

The latest data also highlights the fragile state of our apprenticeship system and the negative consequences substantial changes such as discontinuing the Boosting Apprenticeships Commencement can have on apprentice numbers. Discontinuing the program has added to our ongoing skills and labour shortage.

ACCI looks forward to working with the government to ensure our skilled workforce is appropriately stabilised and has every opportunity to grow and thrive.

Rein in the union heavies

Rein in the union heavies

Published in the Herald Sun, 20 June 2024

By Andrew McKellar

The recent threats from CFMEU boss John Setka against the AFL are a stark reminder of why most Australians shun the union movement. Amid this aggressive conduct, it’s no surprise that nine out of 10 Australian private sector workers choose to overlook unions.

As calls for the abolition of junior rates show, unions are disconnected from the needs of a modern workforce, particularly younger workers starting out.

Instead of focusing on delivering for their members, some union bosses are focused on asserting power and settling old scores.

Australia is facing a productivity crisis, yet it is rare to hear any union leader discussing how the country can work smarter for the benefit of all.

Unions are the most rigid organisations in the country, resisting any meaningful change, except to push for unrealistic demands like a four-day work week.

The government is now belatedly proposing a change to allow the manufacturing division to separate from the CFMEU.

But it’s not addressing the real problem. Shutting down the Australian Building and Construction Commission was a huge mistake – it was the sole organisation that could keep the rogue CFMEU in check.

Setka was so emboldened that he thought it was perfectly fine to try to bully the AFL into sacking its head of umpires, who previously worked for the ABCC.

Setka might think he is special or unique. He is not. He is the latest in a long-running tradition in the construction sector.

Employers feel that many of the government’s industrial relations law changes have encouraged these kinds of union antics.

The so-called closing loopholes legislation is designed to aid union recruiting. Instead of making it easier to employ more people, it’s not so much about closing loopholes than closing a vice on small businesses.

Rather than making it easier for young people to enter the workforce or reducing red tape, unions were given more power to enter workplaces.

Australia’s leadership needs to stand up to outrageous behaviour by unions, urgently address our sagging productivity and make it easier to employ people.

The tedious antics of rogue union bosses might be absurd and slightly bemusing, but serious implications exist. Left unchecked, we all will pay a higher price.

Andrew McKellar is the chief executive officer of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Unions propose new barriers for young workers

Unions propose new barriers for young workers

A union’s proposal to eliminate junior wage rates would have severe implications for young workers, locking them out of an opportunity for their first job.

First jobs at junior pay rates are a crucial stepping stone in their development, Australia’s largest and most representative business network said.

ACCI chief of policy and advocacy David Alexander said it was an unrealistic proposal that will make it almost impossible for young workers to get their first job.

“Calls to abolish junior pay rates is another example of the usual ignorance of economics from unions,” Mr Alexander said.

“Having no junior pay rates would make hiring young people far less attractive to businesses.

“Taking on a worker with minimal experience requires extra risk and extra effort – they do not have the work or life experience that older adults have.

“This would be catastrophic for young workers, especially in retail, who would struggle to get a start in the workplace.”

The Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association has submitted the proposal to be debated as a resolution at the ACTU congress in Adelaide.

The union has already proposed resolutions to increase the minimum annual leave days for employees from 20 to 25 days and to introduce a four-day working week.

Mr Alexander said these proposals were as unrealistic as axing junior pay rates.

“Mandating a four-day work week across the economy ignores the unique settings of particular industries or workplaces and would suffocate the already-flatlining productivity rate,” Mr Alexander said.

“Compelling employers to provide another week of leave for employees would be a similarly damaging step.

“At a time when every economist points to declining productivity, the union movement is coming up with ideas to make it worse.

“As we saw in yesterday’s national accounts figures, productivity has stalled, and until we see a real lift, economic growth will remain stubbornly low or even become negative.”

“Proposals like these will only harm our economy more and must be rejected.”