Building unions in Australia have slammed the appointment of two heads of the former Australian Buildg and Construction Commission (ABCC) at the regulator responsible for industrial relations in the building and construction industry, accusing the individuals concerned of being ‘extremist’ and ‘anti-union’ in their views.

But the appointments have been hailed by industry groups, who say the men in question are the right people to restore order in the industry.

On Thursday, Minister for Employment Eric Abetz announced the appointment of former ABCC Deputy Commissioner Nigel Hadgkiss as a director of the Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate (FWBII) and former ABCC Commissioner John Lloyd as Chair of the FWBII Board.

Abetz says the two men are well placed to lead the transition from the current Inspectorate back to the ABCC, which was abolished by the former Labour government last year in favour of the current Inspectorate but which the Coalition has promised to reinstate within 100 days of returning to office.

Citing a study by Independent Economics, Abetz says the former ABCC era lead to gains in industry productivity of 9.4 percent, benefits to consumers of $7.5 billion and a reduction in days lost due to industrial action.

“We need a strong watchdog to maintain the rule of law and improve productivity on Australian building sites and construction projects” Abetz says.

“The previous Government replaced the ABCC with the FWBII – a regulator with weaker powers. We must get the balance right which is why it’s important we return to the ABCC, underpinned by provisions put in place in 2005.”

Union leaders have hit out at the appointments, with Australian Council of Trade Unions president Ged Kearney saying the former ABCC ‘failed’ as an institution that refused to investigate actions of employers and achieved nothing except to harass and intimidate workers and Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union president Dave Noonan accusing Hadgkiss and Lloyd as being extremist and anti-union in their views.

Dave Noonan

CFMEU construction division national secretary Dave Noonan

“There has been a very long history of very anti-union statements from both Mr Lloyd and Mr Hadgkiss” Noonan was quoted as saying on Australian Associated Press.

“These guys are extremists in their views and it [their appointments] underpins the fact that the government can’t be trusted on industrial relations.”

But the appointments were welcomed by building industry groups, with Master Builders Association Chief Executive Officer Wilhelm Harnisch saying industrial thuggery had returned to building sites since the ABCC’s abolition.

“Industrial tactics such as sign-up or else bargaining and the imposition of effective ‘black bans’ on building material suppliers and construction firms are back” Harnisch said.

“Such industrial thuggery is out totally out of step with community standards and hampers the productivity of the building and construction industry preventing and acts as a barrier to investment, economic growth and employment.”