Fair Work inspectors were ordered to withhold information about new provisions for unions unless they were specifically asked by the business industry, under the leadership of former agency chief Nigel Hadgkiss, internal emails reveal.
The email trail emerged in Federal Court documents yesterday, as Labor increased pressure on Employment Minister Michaelia Cash to explain whether she had breached the ministerial code of conduct by failing to inform the Prime Minister and cabinet of legal action against Mr Hadgkiss.
Mr Hadgkiss resigned from his $426,160 a year job earlier this week after admitting he contravened the Fair Work Act by instructing staff to not publish legal changes to right-of-entry rules for unions.
Labor’s employment spokesman Brendan O’Connor said on Friday that Senator Cash should have told the Prime Minister and cabinet in October 2016 when she said she first learned that Mr Hadgkiss was the subject of legal proceedings for breaching laws he was appointed to uphold.
“Minister Cash must explain whether and when she informed the Prime Minister and cabinet about the legal proceedings that were on foot against Mr Hadgkiss, that were so serious they ultimately led to his resignation for breaking the law for two and a half years,” Mr O’Connor said.
ACTU President Ged Kearney agreed that Senator Cash had breached Prime Minister Turnbull’s Statement of Ministerial Standards and called on her to resign.
Internal email trails tabled as evidence to the Federal Court on Friday shed further light on Mr Hadkiss’s leadership of the Fair Work inspectorate in preventing the publication of information about new laws passed by the former Labor government in late 2013. The laws took effect from January 1, 2014 and have not been changed.
Get the latest news and updates emailed straight to your inbox.
An email from Adam Copp, director of stakeholder engagement for Fair Work Building and Construction on January 9, 2014 to senior staff including Mr Hadgkiss outlined the agency’s advice to industry as follows:
“Inspectors should familiarise themselves with the new provisions, but only provide advice on the provisions that will be rolled back if specifically asked by a building industry participant. Presentations should not include slides regarding the new provisions.”
Another internal document refers to FWBC “not changing its public-facing content to reflect the changes”.
On December 19, 2013, an email referred to Mr Hadgkiss having “canned” any changes to the agency’s right-of-entry advice to industry.
The emails show Mr Hadgkiss led the strategy to not publish the new right-of-entry rules because he thought the new Coalition government would repeal them in February.
This was despite the fact the Greens and Labor would hold the balance of power in the Senate until July.
In an email sent to Adam Copp on January 9, 2014, agency executive Jeff Radisich wrote: “Do we have any idea when the roll-back will occur? I thought we would be stuck with these provisions until the Senate change-over in July. If that’s the case we are running something of a political and industrial risk by withholding info on the law as it currently stands”.
The email turned out to be prescient because the misinformation formed the basis of a prosecution against the CFMEU over its use of a lunchroom, which the new rules allowed.
Replying to Mr Radisich, Mr Copp wrote: “To be honest, I do share your concerns and talked to Nigel about it late last year.
“However, he was absolutely adamant that he didn’t want us to change anything as the government intention is to change the legislation. He said he was extremely comfortable handling it in estimates or the media or wherever. He felt pretty strongly about it.”