Union boss John Setka will be charged with misconduct and sacked from his $200,000-a-year job by the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU) unless he agrees to step aside.
ACTU secretary Sally McManus is flying back into Australia on Wednesday to confront the crisis engulfing the union movement over Mr Setka.
It centres on his alleged remarks about domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty, which he denies, and the criminal charges he is facing for harassing a woman through abusive text messages.
Ms McManus has cut short her trip to Geneva, Switzerland for the International Labour Conference to deal with the issue.
“If any of these allegations are correct, John Setka must resign. There is no place for perpetrators … in leadership positions in our movement.” Ms McManus said.
ACTU president Michele O’Neill said: “We will not tolerate violence against women in our movement. Our leaders must demonstrate our values.”
But a defiant Mr Setka told The New Daily he will not resign.
Union leaders fear any move to charge him if he refuses to resign will be a lengthy and damaging process for the union movement.
“This is dirty politics and this is wrong. I’ve got the utmost respect for Rosie Batty. It’s sickening to me. Albo [Labor leader Anthony Albanese] wants to expel me for that? Please,” he said.
“I’ve been elected by the union members. They are my bosses. If they want me to leave, I will step down tomorrow.
“But I am not going stand down over innuendo and lies people have made up. This is dirty ALP politics.”
Many believe that Ms McManus, who has always enjoyed a good relationship with Mr Setka, is the only person who can convince him to step down from his job for the good of the movement and his union.
Labor figures including Mr Albanese, Bill Shorten and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews lined up publicly this week to urge him to reconsider his position.
Union figures say there are now three options before Mr Setka: Stay, in the unlikely event support emerges from his CFMMEU membership; take a “graceful” exit by resigning; or be charged under the union’s rules.
Mr Albanese has suspended Mr Setka’s ALP membership after his alleged comments suggesting men had fewer rights after the work of domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty.
Mr Setka recently stunned the CFMMEU national executive when he launched into a speech about men’s rights and Ms Batty. He also told the meeting that the Labor Party could “suck me off”.
In a separate development, Mr Setka will formally plead guilty later this month to having used a carriage service to harass his female victim after a plea deal with Victoria Police.
The Herald Sun reports a dossier against Mr Setka includes 32 pages of text messages and that he phoned a woman at least 25 times and sent her 45 text messages, 20 of which were photos.
Allegations made to police also include Mr Setka throwing an iPad at a woman’s face.
“Of course, my actions don’t relate to anything that is before the courts,” Mr Albanese told the ABC’s 7.30 on Tuesday night.
“What they relate to is the views that Mr Setka has put forward on a range of issues that are, frankly, out of line – not just with the Labor Party, but out of line with mainstream Australian views.”
Mr Albanese conceded he had no power to remove Mr Setka from the CFMMEU.
“Well, that’s right. He’s elected as the secretary of the union and that is a matter for the union,” Mr Albanese said.
“If he is not a member of the Labor Party he can’t participate in any Labor Party forums. It is that clear.”
However, the union is considering charging Mr Setka with misconduct – after he pleads guilty – if he does not resign.
The next meeting of the Victorian division of the construction union will consider the matter if he doesn’t step aside this week.
Mr Albanese will take a motion of expulsion to the next meeting of the national executive, which will be the first Friday in July.
Asked if the Labor Party would continue to take money from the CFMMEU in the circumstances, Mr Albanese answered the question by discussing the dangers in the industry.
“This is a dangerous industry. If you don’t have unions in the construction sector, what you will have is an increase beyond the already very high numbers of people who are victims, literally, in terms of fatalities but also injuries on work sites,” he said.
“Unions play an important role in that, but unions need to stick to the law – as do employers”
Ms Batty told The Project on Tuesday night she wasn’t sure what Mr Setka meant when he suggested her work had led to men having fewer rights in the legal system.
“If it means the right to harm, to threaten, to intimidate, to bully and use violence then yes that’s fair enough,” Ms Batty said.
“I’m quite incredulous really that my name has been utilised in this way because I’ve never met the man. I’ve never heard his name and I didn’t know who he was until this came about.”