Unions blamed af­ter Shine Lawyers de­cide not to act

The Observer - - FRONT PAGE - Te­gan An­nett te­­nett@glad­sto­neob­

WORK­ERS in­volved in a bat­tle against Bechtel and the Aus­tralian Tax­a­tion Of­fice’s mass au­dit on their claims have been told the two-year saga “is now over”.

A pro­posed class ac­tion against Bechtel over travel al­lowances for Cur­tis Is­land work­ers will not progress, Cor­po­rate Ac­coun­tants owner Bob La­mont said.

In what he said was the “fi­nal up­date” to the class ac­tion, Mr La­mont said Shine Lawyers de­clined to take on the case chal­leng­ing the travel and ferry al­lowances.

Travel and ferry al­lowance claims were at the cen­tre of the pro­posed class ac­tion, which fol­lowed a mass au­dit by the Aus­tralian Tax­a­tion Of­fice on Bechtel work­ers in 2015 that found in­con­sis­ten­cies be­tween work­ers' claims.

More than 3000 work­ers’ tax re­turns were forcibly ad­justed, fol­low­ing stern warn­ings late 2015 while more than 2600 ad­justed theirs vol­un­tar­ily.

Al­most 2000 ac­coun­tants and tax agents with clients were in­volved in the au­dit.

In a state­ment pub­lished on­line, Mr La­mont claimed “the unions” were to blame for the re­jected class ac­tion.

He said Shine Lawyers’ de­ci­sion not to move for­ward with the case was due to travel al­lowance con­di­tions in the En­ter­prise Bar­gain­ing Agree­ment signed be­tween Bechtel and sev­eral unions ahead of the con­struc­tion of the three $70 bil­lion LNG plants at Cur­tis Is­land.

“Like you will be, we are dumb-founded that our at­tempt on your be­half to get a class ac­tion un­der way against Bechtel has failed,” Mr La­mont wrote.

“It has ap­par­ently failed be­cause your unions handed to Bechtel the right to ignore the terms of the em­ploy­ment con­tract you signed with them in re­turn for a travel and ferry al­lowance.

“But now it’s over, the whole Bechtel saga is over for us and you ...there is ab­so­lutely noth­ing more can be done.”

It’s not the first time Bechtel work­ers in­volved in the au­dit have con­sid­ered pur­su­ing group le­gal ac­tion.

In May 2016, Think Le­gal Prin­ci­pal Paul Flintoft told

The Ob­server the case did not fit within the scope of a class ac­tion be­cause each tax­payer’s cir­cum­stances were unique.

Mr Flintoft, who has pre­vi­ously worked at the tax of­fice, in­stead rec­om­mended those af­fected go to a dif­fer­ent ac­coun­tant for a sec­ond opin­ion on whether the claims were le­git­i­mate, and then seek le­gal ad­vice.

In May the Aus­tralian Appeals Tri­bunal re­jected a chal­lenge to the Aus­tralian tax­a­tion law put for­ward by Cor­po­rate Ac­coun­tants, as a test case on be­half of a Bechtel worker.

The tri­bunal found work-re­lated claims for over­time meals, phone bills and tool ex­penses were not le­git­i­mate.

In June the Tax Prac­ti­tion­ers Board told The

Ob­server it could not con­firm if there would be any fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion or reper­cus­sions for tax agents in­volved in the Bechtel saga.

The Ob­server con­tacted the Aus­tralian Man­u­fac­tur­ers’ Work­ers Union, Aus­tralian Work­ers Union, Con­struc­tion Forestry Min­ing and En­ergy Union, Elec­tri­cal Trades Union and the Queens­land Coun­cil of Unions. The ETU de­clined to re­spond, while oth­ers did not re­spond.

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