Media Release 3 December 2019

THE AUSTRALIAN: Lambie and Hanson have let down women workers

Article by Tamsin Lawrence, deputy director of workplace relations at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

What is the parliament’s justification to a pregnant woman who was left cowering, fearing for the survival of her unborn child, when 30 union thugs violently stormed her office? Or to the woman who was threatened with gang rape by union officials? 

Or the countless female worksite inspectors who have been “doxed”, their phone numbers and home addresses distributed by union members?

READ MORE: Women at mercy of union thugs Hanson, PM at odds over anti-thug laws No retreat in bid to tame unions: PM Pledge to revive IR bil

The Ensuring Integrity Bill would have prevented perpetrators of such crimes from ever representing the union movement again. Instead, we have let down these women; rather than protecting them, we have allowed these men to return to union duties without any real repercussions.

When the man who incited about 30 others to violently storm an office in balaclavas — where they hurled equipment, sprayed fire suppressant and threatened workers — is able to hold another position of power in the union movement, we have serious problems with our laws.

On September 20, Jacqui Lambie took part in the Senate inquiry into the Ensuring Integrity Bill.

At the hearing the senator took on a bunch of female union officials from the Health Services Union for protecting CFMEU Victorian boss and union heavyweight John Setka: “I want to know, from one woman to another: you think this is appropriate behaviour, do you, from this bloke?

“If you think that’s good enough, putting a letter out, and you are backing down — I’ll tell you what — you are doing no use whatsoever for women’s lib.

“You go out there and you want to stand up for women and all this, and as soon as the heavies come down on these women they want to back off. That is not how we lead by example. That is not how we teach women to have self-respect and to stand up for themselves against these bullies. This is not the way it’s done.”

In the post #MeToo world, Lambie gave us a shocking reminder of our obligation and duty to call out and tackle unacceptable behaviour when we see it.

Fast forward two months, and Lambie and Pauline Hanson cast the deciding votes to defeat the Ensuring Integrity Bill in the Senate — a bill that would have granted our courts the crucial powers to tackle the misogynistic, corrupt and thuggish behaviour that lurks in the dark corners of the union movement, most notoriously in the Victorian branch of the CFMEU led by Setka.

It’s behaviour that includes union officials spitting at workplace inspectors, calling them names such as “slut” and “dog”, and threatening to gang-rape them when they simply come on to a worksite to do their job.

As it stands, the only recourse for such behaviour including threatening, bullying, intimidation and coercion from law-breaking unions is for our courts to issue a fine — an outcome considered by the union as “simply the cost of doing business”.

As a society we should be utterly ashamed, not only because in 2019 this kind of behaviour is still occurring but also because our laws allow those engaging in such behaviour to continue to lead the organisations and workers they claim to represent.

Not only do women in construction deserve better but women in all business do.

Australia has come a long way in four decades. The number of working women has almost tripled to six million.

However, as Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows, the number of working women in construction has been falling consistently from 13 per cent 30 years ago to 11 per cent today, despite increases in other typically male-dominated industries such as mining, transport and utilities across the same period.

We must ask ourselves why. Is it because we are sending women in construction, engineering and trades a message that if a union official engages in illegal, thuggish behaviour, all they will get is a slap on the wrist and a fine paid by the union?

Meanwhile this stuff is ruining people’s lives — it is devastating for women.

In 2019, we as women deserve better protection from bullying, intimidation and threats. We deserve laws that hold people to account. We deserve laws that stop former Queensland CFMEU boss Dave Hanna from returning to the union fold after he finishes his jail term for rape — an act the prosecutor described: “He simply chose to take advantage of his position of dominance.”

We deserve laws that allow our courts to ban officials like CFMEU West Australian official Luke Collier, who has a record of intimidating women. In one case, he spat at a woman from the Fair Work Building Commission, then told her to “lick it up you f**king dog”. Another female inspector was called a “f..king slut” and threatened with “you think all I got is your phone number?”. She was just trying to do her job.

The Ensuring Integrity Bill would have allowed the courts to take real action, with those repeatedly breaking the law facing being struck off as officials for good, and those unions with ingrained cultures of disrespect and lawlessness facing deregistration. The defeat of the bill is a defeat for all women who remain vulnerable and without protection from continued threats and abuse on worksites.

Thankfully, the government has promised to continue to pursue these reforms.

Before us, we finally have the opportunity to create real and positive change, and to protect women who have been the target far too long of those who operate in the shadows without consequence.

I hope the parliament does what is right and stands up for women in business and sends the message that union violence must stop.

As first published by The Australian on Tuesday 3 December 2019. 

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