Building industry groups in Australia have unanimously welcomed legislation introduced into Parliament on Thursday to reintroduce the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).

But the moves have been slammed by unions, who say the proposed new law discriminates against construction workers

Introduced into Parliament on Thursday, the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill 2013 seeks to re-establish the former ABCC – the former building industry regulator for industrial relations which was dumped by the then Labour government last year.

If the Bill becomes law, the newly re-established body will replace the Office of the Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate – more commonly known as Fair Work Building and Construction (FWBC), which replaced the ABCC when it was dumped.

The Bill has received unanimous support from building industry groups, who strongly opposed the ABCC’s abolition and say the ‘watering down’ of building industry laws previously administered by the ABCC was the wrong decision.

“Re-establishing the ABCC is essential to boosting Australia’s productivity and to ensuring law and order prevails at our nation’s building sites” said Housing Industry Association Industrial Relations spokesperson David Humphrey.

“The re-emergence of pattern bargaining, the black-banning of certain suppliers and manufacturers and the use of standover tactics against independent contractors and other non- EBA businesses are unacceptable in a modern economy and should not be tolerated in the building industry”.

Wilhelm Harnisch

Master Builders CEO Wilhelm Harnisch

Master Builders Australia Chief Executive Officer Wilhelm Harnisch agrees, saying all the industry is asking of unions is that they ‘act like normal people, respect community standards of behaviour and refrain from unlawful action designed to intimidate and coerce’.

“The current powers of the Fair Work Building and Construction (FWBC) have proved incapable of meeting the challenge of resurgent building union industrial bastardry” Harnisch says.

“Building union industrial tactics have recently evolved to include what the unions erroneously call ‘community pickets’. In reality, these pickets are fronts for building unions to obstruct, intimidate and coerce workers, contractors, suppliers and employers from safely entering their place of work.

“The bargaining framework between employees and employers must be reformed to ensure such negotiations can be sensible and productive and Master Builders welcomes the Bill’s measures to achieve this.”

The Bill is also supported more broadly by business lobby groups, Australian Industry Group Chief Executive Innes Willox saying describing the new legislation as the ‘obvious solution’ to the return of lawlessness in industrial relations within the industry.

In its explanatory memorandum, the government lists a number of examples of what it says represents evidence of unlawful union behaviour since the ABCC’s abolition, including a mass blockade of a Myer Emporium site in Melbourne last August, picketers threatening workers with violence at the Little Creatures brewery site in Geelong last November and a dispute at City West Water in Werribee in February which became so heated workers had to be flown in by helicopter.

But Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union Secretary Dave Noonan hit out at the changes, which he says are overly-radical, discriminate against workers in a particular sector, and will do nothing to address practices such as sham contracting and serious safety breaches on the part of some employers.

“The powers proposed for the ABCC are extreme. They include coercive powers, secretive interviews and imprisonment for those who do not co- operate” Noonan said in an article in The Australian earlier this week.

“Those subject to interviews have no right to silence, or to representation by a lawyer of their choice.”

Noonan also hit out at claims on the part of supporters of the law about the industry being riddled with unlawful behaviour.

“The ABCC cheer squads mutter darkly of union connections with organised crime and bikie gangs, citing sensationalist media coverage.”

“What they never do is explain how industrial laws could cure criminality, even were criminality found to be endemic in the industry (a contention that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny in any event).”