BECHTEL CLASS ACTION DENIED
Unions blamed after Shine Lawyers decide not to act
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.