8 September 2023

Construction firm that lost out on Campbell school tender was 'hostile' to unions, Integrity Commission hears

| Lizzie Waymouth
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Zach Smith

CFMEU ACT branch secretary Zachary Smith told the Integrity Commission he had experienced hostility from Manteena since starting work in Canberra 10 years ago. Photo: Screenshot.

The construction company that lost out on the Campbell Primary School modernisation project had a “fairly hostile approach to the union”, the ACT Integrity Commission has heard.

Fyshwick-based Manteena missed out on the tender for the project, which was instead awarded to Lendlease, despite being identified as the preferred tenderer in two key stages.

In evidence given to the commission on Wednesday (6 September), an education directorate official known by the pseudonym John Green spoke of “the unions’ expressed preference that Manteena not get the job” and suggested Manteena was aware that “they didn’t get the job because there was union influence in the decision making”.

Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) ACT branch secretary Zachary Smith told the commission yesterday (7 September) that since he started working in Canberra in 2013, Manteena had a “fairly hostile approach to the union and union activities on their site”, whereas Lendlease paid its workers in accordance with a CFMEU-negotiated enterprise agreement.

READ MORE Education official ‘sick of Campbell’ tender process, made the decision he was told to

Mr Smith spoke of a letter drafted to the ACT Government in April 2020, five months before the tender had been awarded to Lendlease, effectively warning the government not to work with Manteena.

“Our plan was that we would write to the ACT Government outlining our concerns based on our history with Manteena and identify why we thought there were concerns with the government awarding work and why those things should be taken into consideration when they make tender assessments,” Mr Smith said.

The commission heard that Manteena had adopted an approach that sought to exclude the union from enterprise bargaining agreements, which was also taken by a number of other organisations in connection with the Master Builders Association (MBA).

“It was the MBA and they were running a concerted campaign to, I would argue deceive, but to encourage or coerce workers into signing out the union as a lawful bargaining representative,” Mr Smith said.

ACT Integrity Commissioner Michael Adams asked Mr Smith whether the union wanted to leverage Manteena as an example of why contractors should comply with regulations by showing it would have “real-world consequences”.

“If a company such as Manteena were to lose a tender on the basis that its industrial relations policy was disputed by the CFMEU, that would give a powerful inducement for other companies to accept the CFMEU line,” Mr Adams said, to which Mr Smith agreed it would.

However, Mr Smith said although the union thought Manteena’s failure to adhere to industrial relations policy should be a reason for the government not to work with it, “I don’t think it ever crossed my mind that this would be a warning shot or a precedent to the industry”.

READ ALSO PBS Building ACT to be liquidated, NSW company given lifeline for court options

The commission also heard from CFMEU ACT secretary Jason O’Mara.

In earlier hearings, Mr Green told the commission that CFMEU members had concerns with Manteena and the government procurement process more broadly.

Counsel assisting Callan O’Neill asked Mr O’Mara if he had told Mr Green “one of the problems with government was that it was taking the cheapest price”, to which he said, “We’d been saying that since 2012”.

“It’d been a major ongoing problem,” he said.

“It’d given the Territory some really poor outcomes, poor standards of workmanship, poor safety outcomes and poor dollar value outcomes.”

Asked whether he told Mr Green Manteena shouldn’t get the Campbell job, Mr O’Mara said he didn’t.

“I was very happy to tell people whether a contractor was good or bad, but that was Mr Green’s job or the directorate’s job to work out who they actually used.

“I’m doubtful that I actually said they shouldn’t get the job, but I’m sure I was critical of their performance.”

The hearings continue today.

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privatepublic4:02 am 09 Sep 23

Have a question for the union: How many work on your sites who do noy speak English? One would assume any training in construction would be warranted, apart from their home country training. At the same time how is OH@S / HS&E training coming along in Korean and Mandarin? Two pairs of very polite gents I me whom in both cases needed baby food.

I would think that how a company treats its staff is something that SHOULD be considered.

I totally agree proth57. However, it is a formal process and there are strict guidelines around the issuing of government tenders. I have been involved in a family business for many years and I know how consuming and expensive the process is. All sides of the tender process must be confident that it was fair to all parties and there was equal and unbiased treatment.
Who would want to be the favoured but losing tenderer and find out later that it was due to political and external interference for some dubious reason.
I look forward to the outcome of the hearing.

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