Building unions threaten to desert super fund with ties to Grocon
Bill Oliver, state secretary of the CFMEU. Photo: Penny Stephens
BUILDING unions have warned an industry superannuation fund it must reconsider its links with builder Grocon or risk members deserting it for more ''worker friendly'' schemes.
The warning stems from the fall-out over the unresolved dispute between Grocon and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, which paralysed part of central Melbourne in August and September. That dispute is before the courts.
But building unions are widening the campaign against Grocon to target the $18 billion Cbus Super and its chairman, former Labor Premier Steve Bracks, saying if they did not respond adequately to their concerns it would ''be at their peril''. Cbus is the default fund for building workers. It has almost 700,000 members and substantial investments in the construction sector.
The unions' tactics resemble the campaign by environmentalists against Gunns timber group, where they pressured the company's investors and financiers over its corporate practices.
Electrical Trades Union assistant state secretary Troy Gray said the building unions had been unhappy with the response from Cbus after union members raised concerns their super was being used to fund Grocon projects.
''We're less than impressed by the response of Cbus,'' he said. ''If they don't address it, it'll be at their peril.''
Cbus invests in a range of funds including Colonial First State, which has a strong relationship with Grocon and is using it for building work on a $430 million redevelopment of 5 Martin Place in Sydney. Last year Grocon built a 29-level tower in Sydney for Cbus and another fund.
Mr Gray said Cbus needed to respect its commitments to ethical investments and labour rights. Cbus is a signatory to the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment which requires environmental, social and corporate governance issues be considered in investments.
Bill Oliver, state secretary of the CFMEU, also said his members were unhappy with the Cbus response. ''They're disappointed Cbus would give a job (5 Martin Place) to a builder that is suing the union. If Cbus don't start hearing and listening to the membership, anything is possible.''
Cbus chief executive David Atkin said it was in regular talks with ''stakeholders, including unions'' and its door is always open.
Mr Atkin said it required its fund managers to assess risks around environmental, social and governance risks, such as workplace safety, as ''part of every investment decision they make.'' But he would not comment directly on the union comments about switching funds.
The union campaign is politically delicate with nearly half the members of the Cbus board being current union officials including ACTU president Ged Kearney and building union leaders Dave Noonan and Cesar Melhem.
The remainder are employer representatives as well as the independent director former federal Labor treasurer John Dawkins and Mr Bracks, who is appointed by the ACTU.
A source close to the Cbus board dismissed the push and said it would be irresponsible to allow it.
The ETU's Mr Gray said Cbus must call in its investment managers to make sure ''their investments meet minimum requirements around workplace rights and freedom of association''.
The CFMEU dispute with Grocon was sparked by disagreement over the appointment of shop stewards and the right to display union paraphernalia at the company's sites.
Grocon has repeatedly rejected union claims about its safety record or attitude towards worker rights.
Grocon is now suing the union for $10.5 million, and told the Supreme Court the picket line was a deliberate attempt to intimidate its staff.