In his bid to become Australia’s next Prime Minister, Tony Abbott is talking tough on militant construction and manufacturing unions.
Toward this end, he has outlined two key policies.
First, Abbott has promised to reinstate the office of the Australian Building and Construction Commissioner (ABCC). This office was replaced by the Fair Work Building & Construction office in a controversial 71 to 70 vote in February 2012. The former ABCC (established in 2001) was an independent, statutory authority responsible for monitoring workplace relations and safety in Australia.
Second, as Labor prepares to hear findings of the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption regarding allegations filed against members of the former ALP state government, Abbott has promised a crackdown on union corruption which will include increased fines of up to $340,000 and jail terms of up to five years for those found guilty.
This second part of Abbott’s policy has received some support from Paul Howes, the boss of the Australian Workers Union, who last month said there should be harsh penalties for union officials who rip off workers.
Abbott’s promises come as militant union activity in Victoria and other states has been blamed for cost overruns and delays on significant building projects and a number of state governments have launched hefty campaigns in order to limit union influence.
In an outline of his policies before the Victorian Liberal State Council, Abbott said that he was taking a stand “to let the militant unions of this city and state know that the rule of law must always prevail.”
"We will re-establish the ABCC and finish the job … The law must be supreme, no one is above the law," Abbott told the council.
An excerpt from the Liberal website states that the policy “seeks to improve the current Fair Work laws by providing common sense solutions to practical problems such as ensuring right of entry provisions are sensible and not abused, providing practical help to small businesses within the Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman and tackling lawlessness on building sites and construction projects by re-establishing the Australian Building and Construction Commission.
According to Abbott, this will mean less interference from unions and greater productivity on site for building and construction businesses in Australia. Less red tape will mean faster job completion may kick-start a slowing building sector. Any promises of change and recovery in the building sector will be grasped at as the election approaches.
To increase efficiency and productivity on construction work sites, changes to union rights and business regulations will need to be made. However, to decrease union influence, the payment processes in the industry need fixing and expediting.
Abbott says he understands this need and that he has the will and means to make those changes. His promises for change in the building and construction sector will certainly appeal to many business owners.