CFMEU election battle hits court

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CFMEU election battle hits court

The battle for the top position in the NSW construction union has entered the courts, with Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union secretary Andrew Ferguson taking out an apprehended violence order against his assistant secretary – who intends running against him.

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The battle for the top position in the NSW construction union has entered the courts, with Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union secretary Andrew Ferguson taking out an apprehended violence order against his assistant secretary – who intends running against him.

Craig Bates, who has been the CFMEU’s construction and general division (NSW branch) assistant secretary and national vice-president for the past eight years, has also been suspended from duties pending a hearing into misbehaviour charges.

But Bates told WorkplaceInfo today that he would not be able to attend the September 16 hearing because of the AVO, which prohibits him coming within 50 metres of Ferguson, or Ferguson’s place of work, which includes building sites.

He says the AVO also makes it extremely difficult to organise his election campaign.

Bates told WorkplaceInfo the misbehaviour charges related to three alleged offences:

  • signing an agreement after Ferguson instructed otherwise;
  • threatening Ferguson verbally;
  • removing a manila folder containing union information from the union office.

He is denying all three, but says under the union’s rules he must stand down pending the outcome of the hearing.

Bates said he had decided to run for secretary last weekend after 12 months of battling with Ferguson over the direction the union should take. He said he had tried to be loyal and change things internally first, but that his and Ferguson’s relationship ‘has become untenable’.

He said the organisation was suffering from the effects of central policy-making, rather than rank and file decisions.

‘I’ve seen and participated in a bureaucratic and outdated process [when it comes to decision-making], and as a leader of the union I’ve found that very difficult,’ Bates said.

He said his concern was prompted by the fact that membership was now around 20,000 compared to 64,000 at the last building boom, in the mid to late eighties. With the Olympic boom nearly over, Bates said reorganising the union along rank and file campaigns was vital to ensure its future existence. At this stage, he said, large sections of potential members felt the union’s policies and campaigns were no longer relevant.

Nominations opened yesterday, but Bates has signalled he will not name his running mates until the last moment (September 22). Bates said he was trying to organise a raffle to raise funds for a Supreme Court challenge to the AVO, so he could attend his hearing and organise his election campaign.

The lead-up to the campaign has also been marked by a flyer that was circulated on Sydney sites, containing allegations of corruption that Bates says should be investigated by the national executive.

CFMEU (construction division) national secretary John Sutton told WorkplaceInfo he noted Bates’s comments about the flyer’s allegations, but that Bates didn’t seem to have a lot of other people supporting his view. He was not currently investigating the contents of the flyer.

The NSW branch was fielding WorkplaceInfo’s calls to Ferguson’s office, and these were not returned. But Sutton confirmed that Bates was currently suspended. He said he could not comment on the suspension further at this stage, and nor could he comment on Bates’s decision to run for secretary, although it was ‘his call’.

If there is a ballot, it will be held in early November. The Australian Electoral Commission has not received any nominations to date.

 
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