Australian Council of Trade Unions president Michele O’Neil has urged industry superannuation funds to continue campaigning on workplace relations ahead of the federal election.

Ms O’Neil rejected claims of financial activism after unions demanded union-backed industry funds pressure mining giant BHP to save the jobs of 80 local seafarers.

‘In Australia a group of CEOs hanging out on yachts giving media bites about the ‘need’ to cut penalty rates is apparently fine,’ she told a superannuation conference on the Gold Coast.

‘But superannuation trustees suggesting that maybe allowing major companies to sack their Australian workforces and replace them with underpaid and exploited foreign workers is not in their members’ interests?’

Union demands on industry funds prompted Treasurer Josh Frydenberg to write to the prudential regulator, raising alarm superannuation was being used to push an industrial relations agenda.

Ms O’Neil said campaigning was acting in super fund members’ interests, attacking bosses who were ‘afraid’ shareholding workers would question exorbitant salaries.

‘We should remember that our role is not to exploit the law to maximise profit, our role is to provide dignified retirement outcomes for working people,’ the ACTU president said.

She said major companies which super funds invest in had chosen to undermine local workers’ rights while simultaneously exploiting foreign workers.

‘The Australian public does not support those that sack Australian workers on decent wages and conditions just to replace them with foreign workers who are underpaid, badly treated and severely exploited.’

Ms O’Neil also called for the Morrison government to scrap its freeze on increasing the superannuation guarantee from 9.5 to 12 per cent of wages.