The CEO of the construction company that lost out on the Campbell Primary School modernisation project was not aware of complaints from the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), the ACT Integrity Commission has been told.
Manteena CEO Mark Bauer said his company “didn’t and doesn’t have a dispute with the CFMEU” and was unaware of any potential complaints from the union during the tender process for the Campbell project.
Fyshwick-based Manteena missed out on the tender for the project, which was instead awarded to Lendlease, despite Manteena being identified as the preferred tenderer in two key stages.
Mr Bauer said he recalled that the tender assessment was taking longer than usual and Manteena had inquired on a number of occasions in 2020 to Major Projects Canberra via phone and email to find out why.
“I think my recollection is that the process was just taking a long time or longer than what we might expect for a tender assessment to take place, but I don’t think we had or I had any other understanding … that there was anything but a normal tender evaluation process on foot.”
CFMEU ACT branch secretary Zachary Smith had told the commission earlier this month that since he started working in Canberra in 2013, Manteena had a “fairly hostile approach to the union and union activities on their site”.
Mr Smith said Manteena had adopted an approach that sought to exclude the union from enterprise bargaining agreements.
The commission heard on Wednesday that Manteena had an enterprise agreement directly with its employees, which was registered with Fair Work Australia but did not include the CFMEU.
The CFMEU wrote to Manteena in March 2020 seeking to commence bargaining for an enterprise agreement, stating that the union was eligible to represent one or more of its workers.
Mr Bauer said he sought advice from Master Builders Australia and, on this advice, sent a response to the CFMEU stating that it wasn’t the appropriate time to be commencing an agreement, given “the current economic climate and COVID-19 pandemic” but that if bargaining were to commence, the union would be notified if it is eligible as a bargaining representative.
Mr Bauer said while enterprise agreements apply for a set time, they typically continue if employees have not commenced bargaining and that this was the case with Manteena.
“We had an agreement on foot, and it was appropriate to continue with that,” he said.
The CFMEU drafted a letter to the ACT Education Directorate on 2 April raising its concerns with Manteena.
“We believe that Manteena’s consistent failure to adhere to the Secure Local Jobs Code has the potential to render them ineligible to tender at some point during the process, and as such, is a risk to the Education Directorate’s efficient management of the tendering process.”
In the letter, the union urged the directorate to directly raise the issue of Secure Local Jobs Code compliance with Manteena.
Most likely due to an administrative error, the letter was never sent, although it was intended to have been sent.
Mr Bauer told the commission he had not been aware this was the union’s view about Manteena at the time and had not known as at 2 April 2020 that the CFMEU had an issue with Manteena.
After Lendlease had been selected as the preferred tenderer, Mr Bauer met with the Education Directorate official known by the pseudonym John Green.
In his notes from the meeting on 18 September 2020, Mr Bauer said: “John Green stated that there is a very strong view in government that Manteena has a problem with the CFMMEU. He stated that it is a real problem and the ‘noise’ in this regard is very loud.
The notes stated that Mr Bauer asked “why Manteena was even selected for the shortlist”, to which Mr Green initially did not have an answer, but he said “something changed between the start of the [expression of interest]/tender process in August 2019 and early 2020”.
“He stated that something obviously occurred earlier this year with the CFMMEU and Manteena because the ‘noises’ have got louder this year”.
However, Mr Bauer told the commission he was unaware of these views.
Mr Bauer recalled that Mr Green said the “Education Directorate had a different minister and that ministers each do things differently and are influenced by different things”, noting that Manteena had been recently awarded a $10 million contract at the Canberra Hospital.
“So the context there was, well, if we were suitable to deliver that project, we were struggling to understand why we weren’t suitable to deliver a school project.”