CFMEU on path for split under federal laws amid John Setka’s bitter stoush over AFL chief umpire

Andrew Brown
AAP
Manufacturing workers could vote to split from the powerful CFMEU under new laws before parliament. (Darren England/AAP PHOTOS)
Manufacturing workers could vote to split from the powerful CFMEU under new laws before parliament. (Darren England/AAP PHOTOS) Credit: AAP

Laws paving the way for one of Australia’s largest unions to split amid a bitter stoush have been introduced to federal parliament.

Under the laws, brought into the House of Representatives on Monday, manufacturing division members of the Construction, Forestry and Maritime Employees Union (CFMEU) would be able to vote to leave the union.

Tensions have flared after the union’s Victorian secretary John Setka piled pressure on the AFL to fire its chief umpire.

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The 59-year-old criticised the AFL for hiring Stephen McBurney, the former head of the now-defunct industrial watchdog the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

Mr Setka, who stands down later this year, threatened to delay work on AFL construction sites if the sport failed to give in to his demands and sack Mr McBurney.

Workplace Minister Tony Burke said the laws would allow manufacturing members to come to their own decisions about their future within the union.

“It’s clear many manufacturing division members – including workers in heavily feminised industries like textiles – do not feel properly represented by the CFMEU,” he said.

“The recent threatening and thuggish behaviour of John Setka has hardened the government’s resolve to give members a choice. It’s not hard to see why those members might want to vote to leave.”

A similar vote had been held of the CFMEU’s mining and energy division, which resulted in them forming their own body.

The laws would also stop the CFMEU from expanding its eligibility requirements to overlap with the potential new organisation of manufacturing members.

The union’s national secretary Zach Smith has hit out at the plan, describing it as a dangerous precedent.

“A federal government intervention in determining union coverage is a massive mistake that could ultimately hurt workers,” he said.

“This bill risks setting a dangerous precedent for anti-worker ideologues in future coalition governments to break up unions.”

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