The legislation to restore the national regulator for workplace relations within the building and construction industry in Australia has gone before parliament, with the government saying the legislation is necessary to restore order to the industry but Labour and the Greens remaining opposed to the regulator’s reintroduction.
Introduced without any amendment from earlier legislation in 2013 which was rejected by the Senate, the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill re-establishes the Australian Building and Construction Commission as the regulator for industrial relations within the building and construction industry.
Introduced by Howard government in 2005, the former ABCC was hailed by building industry lobby groups for what they say was its role in restoring law and order to the industry but was despised by unions, who say the former regulator discharged its duties in a biased and unaccountable fashion and that having a separate regulator for the building industry specifically represented a form of discrimination against workers in the construction sector as opposed to workers across other sectors of the economy.
It was abolished by the former Labour government in 2012 in favour of the current Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate, which had more restrictive powers compared with its predecessor.
At the time, Labour also narrowed matters which were considered to be unlawful and reduced the maximum penalties for unlawful behaviour.
If passed, however, the new legislation will restore the ABCC along with tougher penalties for those who engage in unlawful industrial action.
Whilst the earlier version of the Bill was rejected by Parliament, the government is hoping the outcome of the Heydon Royal Commission will persuade cross-bench senators to support the legislation.
The Commission found a culture of ‘widespread and deep-seated’ misconduct by union officials, and detailed a long list of officials whom it said may be guilty of criminal activity including blackmail, bribes and threats of violence.
With Labour and the Greens likely to oppose the Bill, the government needs the support of six out of eight cross bench senators in order to get the legislation over the line.
Industry lobby groups called on cross benchers to support the legislation.
Australian Industry Group Chief Executive Officer Innes Willox said the current laws were inadequate, and that those who operated within the law – which applies equally to employers as well as workers – had nothing to fear.
“It is patently obvious that it is in the community’s interests for the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill to be passed by Parliament and all Senators need to support it,” Willox said.
“All Opposition and Crossbench Senators need to put the community’s interests first and support the passage of the Bill without any further delays.”