By Simon Stokes
High profile Perth builder, Gerry Hanssen, has been fined twice in two days for denying authorised CFMEU Officials from carrying out safety inspections on Perth building site.
In 2016 a young German backpacker was killed while working on a Hanssen building site. In response to that incident, and concerns raised by workers on Hanssen sites, the CFMEU tried to lawfully access those sites to investigate suspected safety issues.
Authorised union Officials have the right to enter a construction site if they have reason to believe there are safety breaches. This authorisation is only extended to officials after specific training and clearance by all relevant State and Federal Government Departments including the WA Industrial Relations Commission and the Fair Work Commission. The process is rigorous.
But those Officials were repeatedly denied entry to investigate safety on behalf of workers on Hanssen building sites around Perth. The CFMEU brought prosecution for three separate denials of entry against Gerry Hanssen and his company. He fought those prosecutions for over two years until he recently lost one of the cases. He then pleaded guilty to a second charge.
In handing down his findings, the judge said that given a worker had been killed on his building site, Mr Hanssen should “have had an even greater height of sensitivity and need to ensure compliance with legal obligations and, in particular, in respect of safety standards.”
But rather than acknowledge his unlawful behavior, Gerry Hanssen yesterday simply attacked the CFMEU and it’s officials, describing them as “a bunch of thugs.”
CFMEU Safety Officer, Bob Benkesser was appalled by the public comments.
“What a disgraceful bit of hypocrisy. He’s gouging profit from the rightful wages, conditions and safety of workers and he’s desperate to hide it from public scrutiny. But he got caught. He got convicted. He got fined. So he runs to his mates in the Murdoch press and has a public sook about it.”
“Our officials were fully authorised to be there. They were patient. They were respectful. They operated within the the law at all times. And Gerry Hanssen knows it.”
As part of the settlement, Gerry Hanssen wrote a letter of apology to CFMEU State Secretary, Mick Buchan, acknowledging the legitimate role of the union under State and Federal safety laws.
“I apologise personally, and on behalf of Michael (Gerry’s son who was also fined) and Hanssen Pty Ltd, for unlawfully refusing Mr Molina and Mr Kerkvliet entry to the site. I recognise that their attempt to enter the site was both lawful and proper” Mr Hanssen’s letter reads.
“I acknowledge that my actions, as well as the actions of Michael and Hanssen Pty Ltd, were wrong and contravened the Fair Work Act 2009.”
CFMEU WA State Secretary Mick Buchan was also scathing of the contempt show by Gerry Hanssen for both his workers and the intelligence of the public.
“The words expressed in his letter to me are completely at odds with his public comments this week. We accepted that apology in good faith. It’s now clear that Gerry Hanssen’s words mean absolutely nothing.”
“The truth of our industrial system is that its companies like Hanssen who are lawless. They’re criminal in their failure to uphold the safety and dignity of working people and they openly flout their disregard of the law.”
“They do it to prevent their building sites and their business practices from being exposed to the disinfecting light of public scrutiny. And the sad truth is the fines that have been handed down are probably a tiny fraction of the money Hanssen saves by preventing proper public insight. So where is the incentive to act within the law?”
“The CFMEU proudly stand in opposition to those who get rich off the exploitation of others. We will continue to fight for the rights of every West Australian worker. We intend to hold companies like Hanssen to account. We intend to do that proudly, loudly and without fear. And we intend to win.”
The rulings, released publicly this week, bring the total fines handed down against Gerry Hanssen and his company in relation to these convictions to almost $114,000. Another case of unlawful denial of entry to inspect safety is already outstanding against him.
Hanssen Pty Ltd is also currently defending a strong class action for alleged systematic underpayments of workers that could run into the tens of millions of dollars.
The apparent disparity between the details of this case, the ruling handed down by the court, and the publicly reported comments from Gerry Hanssen must surely bring into question the authenticity of Mr Hanssen’s apology and integrity in his dealings.