The federal coalition has upped the ante regarding the construction industry in the lead up to Saturday’s federal election, promising to strengthen a code of practice to rein in militant union behaviour on multi-billion dollar public building and infrastructure projects, a media report says.

The promise, outlined in a report in The Australian, follows earlier promises to reinstate the Australian Building and Construction Commission, and has been immediately slammed by unions but is likely to be popular with building industry groups, who have applauded state-based codes and say the abolition of the ABCC saw a resumption of union militancy.

According to the report, the Coalition would re-write the Code, reintroduce massive fines previously applied for union officials found guilty of unlawful conduct and reinstate the ABCC with its full powers, opposition workplace relations spokesman Eric Abetz saying militant unions had a history of holding big projects to ransom and nominating the $8 billion East-West road tunnel project in Melbourne as one undertaking an Abbott government would ‘take steps’ to ensure was delivered on time and on budget.

“The community can be assured the Coalition will have a strong and effective building code that cracks down on illegality and thuggery in the building and construction sector, within the first three months of a Coalition government, which will apply to all government infrastructure projects” Abetz is reported as saying in the report.

Following the abolition of the ABCC last year, a number of conservative led state governments introduced mandatory codes of practice which govern the industrial relations practices of all contractors bidding for work on major construction projects.

As well as generally requiring contractors to have management plans in place deal with potential industrial disputes,  these codes spell out expected behaviour in areas such as freedom of association, right of entry, reporting of impending industrial action, good faith bargaining, sham contracting, enforcing compliance down the contractual chain and notifying regulators of potential breaches.

Whilst building groups generally applaud the state codes, a national code introduced by Labour earlier this year which applies to federally funded projects was less popular as it was introduced without consultation and was widely seen as an attempt to limit state-based codes.

However, the latest plan has been slammed by unions, who accuse the Coalition of seeking to rip up the Fair Work Act re-introduce Work Choices.

“Eric Abetz’s revelation that the Coalition will reintroduce their National Code for the construction industry and target infrastructure jobs is a clear indication of their intentions” CFMEU Construction National Secretary Dave Noonan said in a statement.

“Because they are ahead in the polls, the Coalition can’t resist dribbling out their planned attacks on Australian workers.  Construction workers will not only have to deal with a re-introduced ABCC; an interfering, anti-worker government will also be meddling with the kinds of Enterprise Bargaining Agreements workers can make with their employers.”