The building and construction industry in Australia has called for a crackdown on unions who try to bully suppliers and other parties who deal with major construction companies as a form protest against the company itself.
Those same industry members have also called for what they hope will soon be a newly restored building industry regulator to be given the power to deal with such behaviour.
In a submission to a review on national competition policy, Master Builders Australia recommended that authority to act on secondary boycotts be shared between the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), with the latter acting in cases where the matter in question occurs in the building industry.
The building industry lobby group also called for commercial law to be separated from workplace law and that regulations to prevent independent contractors be covered by enterprise agreements.
Used as a form of attempting to influence the actions of one business by exerting pressure on other businesses with whom the company in question deals – for instance, suppliers or major customers – secondary boycotts are sometimes used by environmental or labour groups as a form of protest against businesses which are alleged to have poor environmental practices or are locked in labour disputes.
In the building industry, Boral has repeatedly said in media reports it had been subject to this kind of behaviour from the Construction, Forestry Mining and Energy Union after it refused to stop supplying materials to Grocon during the latter’s dispute with unions in 2012.
Master Builders acting CEO Richard Calver said secondary boycotts are a ‘brutal industrial tactic’ used by building unions to inflict financial demands upon builders and suppliers who do not comply with their demands.
“The aim of secondary boycotts is to either make builders and suppliers hostage to union demands or to send them to wall,” Calver said, adding that such activity damaged the economy, threatened livelihoods and inhibited proper competition.
“It is clearly not in the community’s interests for unions to assume the role of determining the commercial survival of enterprises.”
Calver said there have been few instances where the ACCC has pursued secondary boycott action, and that recommendations to empower the ABCC to do so dated back to the Cole Royal Commission.
Master Builders’ call comes as legislation to reinstall the ABCC remains blocked in Parliament by opposition parties.
The call also comes amid renewed efforts by the current building industry regulator for industrial relations – Fair Work Building and Construction – to return to its ‘core business’ and crack down on unlawful conduct following the agency’s relinquishing of the responsibility for investigating unpaid wage and entitlement claims last year.
That new focus last week saw the agency pursue action against CFMEU boss Dave Noonan and a number of other union officials over the blockade of a concrete pour on the New Children’s Hospital work site in Perth last year.
Calver added that it is important to allow tradespeople to work as independent contractors, and that the law should not force contractor arrangements to be covered by enterprise agreements.
“Permitting the regulation of subcontracting by introducing pay and conditions parity with employees restricts their freedom of choice in how building and construction industry participants carry out the skills of their trade and does not take into account the fact that subcontractors in the building and construction industry are not a threat to employees’ livelihoods,” he said.