We need to know about Seyfarth Shaw

Unions play an essential role in securing the workplace safety and rights of Australian workers. For this reason, it’s in the public interest to know when a government organisation engages in deliberate union-busting. It’s particularly worth knowing about if it occurs under the watch of a Labor government.

This is why it was right and proper for the Fire Services Review to expose and criticise the “deliberately ideological attack on the UFU” that the CFA and MFB had carried out under the previous (coalition) government. And this is why it was wrong of Jane Garrett to suppress the report and spin its contents to the extent that the findings of union-bashing never reached public awareness.

It’s also why the public needs to know more about the CFA’s union-busting efforts during Jane Garrett’s ministership. On September 6th, The Age revealed that in March 2016, the CFA had commissioned the services of notorious union-busting law firm Seyfarth Shaw.

Since that revelation, little in the way of further details has been forthcoming. On same day that The Age revealed the involvement of Seyfarth Shaw, CFA CEO Lucinda Nolan appeared before the Parliamentary Inquiry into Fire Season Preparedness and was grilled on the topic by Labor MLC Harriet Shing. Nolan denied engaging in deliberate union-busting:

Lucinda Nolan faced a similar grilling at September 28th hearing of the federal Senate Inquiry in to the Fair Work Amendment (Smash The UFU) Bill. Again, despite persistent questioning from Labor Senator Doug Cameron, she denied that there was a deliberate union-busting agenda:

The dissenting report arising from this Senate Inquiry expressed strong concern regarding the accuracy of Nolan’s testimony:

To follow up on the matter, at the September 28th hearing, Senator Cameron asked current CFA CEO Frances Diver to provide, on notice, documentation that would shed much more light on the engagement of Seyfarth Shaw:

Unfortunately, these documents were not forthcoming, CFA indicating in its response of 4th October that the then-ongoing Supreme Court case (VFBV vs. CFA) would be compromised by the release of these documents:

However, on the 25th of October the VFBV dropped the Supreme Court case.

There is now no reason why the CFA should not provide the documents requested by Senator Cameron.

I really hope this happens. It is in the public interest for any union-busting activities of a government authority to be exposed as a matter of public record.

The complaints made by Nolan and the former board around the union’s claims in the EBA have been expertly refuted by CFA Chief Officer Steve Warrington, in evidence heard at the Parliamentary Inquiry, at a Senate Inquiry Hearing and in a written response to the infamous “bombshell” letter MFB CO Peter Rau’s wrote to Minister James Merlino. Although these statements were largely ignored by a media that must clearly by either biased, incompetent or both, those of us who follow this matter now know that the opposition voiced by the former management of CFA towards the EBA was unjustified.

Thanks to the revelations around the involvement of Seyfarth Shaw, we also have a hunch for why they took that stance: because they were engaged in ideological union-busting, most likely with Jane Garrett’s blessing. But a hunch isn’t enough: we need to know the details. Let’s hope we see those documents.