Australia’s biggest unions push back, demanding Setka resign


“As union leaders, we cannot condone any actions which do not accord with the values we uphold and we must call out any behaviours which cause damage to the union movement and our members,’’ the leaders said.

ACTU secretary Sally McManus fronts the media after a meeting with CFMEU head John Setka.Credit:Jason South

The nation’s largest union, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, which has just under 300,000 members, also supported Ms McManus’s stance.

“The ANMF doesn’t take it upon itself to tell another union how to run its business, but in this instance supports the ACTU position while due process is sorted through,” said Annie Butler, the union’s federal secretary.

The Finance Sector Union’s national secretary Julia Angrisano said union leaders needed to accept responsibility for their behaviour.

Other large unions with significant female memberships have previously made similar statements, including the shop assistants union, United Voice and Australian Services Union.

The Australian Workers Union, Transport Workers Union and the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance have also endorsed Ms McManus’s position.

The National Union of Workers warned the issue was being used by conservative political forces to attack the rights of workers which was an “abhorrent attack on all of us”.

But the union movement had to remain committed to equality and to end gendered violence.

“John has indicated that he intends to offer a guilty plea to serious matters,” the NUW statement said. “The consequence for him, as a leader of the CFMMEU, is to do what is in the best interests of the CFMMEU and the union movement. That means he should offer his resignation.”

But the executive of Victoria’s peak union body, Trades Hall, which met on Friday, did not issue a statement on the issue.

Mr Setka has dug in, saying he retains support of his members.

A number of Victorian unions, including the Electrical Trades Union, have also offered their support. The CFMMEU’s NSW construction branch has also backed Mr Setka, as has Western Australian Maritime Union leader Chris Cain.

On Friday Labor frontbencher Michelle Rowland said the party should consider severing ties with the CFMMEU.

“I think further action should be considered, but let’s be clear, the one thing that can be done right now is a decision by Anthony Albanese as our leader to say this person is no longer welcome in the Labor Party,” Ms Rowland told Sky News. “Adios”.

Labor frontbencher Michelle Rowland has said the ALP should consider cutting ties with the CFMMEU.

Labor frontbencher Michelle Rowland has said the ALP should consider cutting ties with the CFMMEU.Credit:James Alcock

The Coalition has flagged the Ensuring Integrity Bill, which would allow unions such as the CFMMEU to be deregistered and officials banned if they break the law, as one of its top priorities when Parliament returns on July 2.

If it does not gain Labor’s support, it will need to rely on the crossbench to get the legislation through the Senate. Labor has not announced its position, but remains unlikely to support the bill.

Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick said the Setka controversy had not changed his party’s position. His party, which will continue to hold part of the balance of power in the Senate, rejected the bill when it was put to a vote last year, and Senator Patrick said he still wanted the legislation to encompass both trade unions and the private sector.

Mr Setka has been under intense pressure to step down since The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald reported last Saturday graphic details of his harassment of a woman.

Mr Albanese has defended his move to expel Mr Setka from Labor.

“The comments are very clear … whether he argues that they were misinterpreted or not.”

Ben Schneiders is an investigations reporter at The Age with a background reporting on industrial relations, business, politics and social issues. A two-time Walkley Award winner, he has been part of The Age’s investigative unit since 2015.

Anna Patty is Workplace Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald. She is a former Education Editor, State Political Reporter and Health Reporter.

Eryk Bagshaw is an economics correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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