Two key industry lobby groups have thrown their weight behind proposed changes to industrial relations law within the building and construction industry, saying legislation repealed by the previous government delivered higher levels of productivity and greater cost control on large-scale building and infrastructure projects.
In a joint submission made to a Senate inquiry, the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) and Australian Constructors Association (ACA) have voiced their support of the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill 2013.
If passed, the bill will re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), reintroduce former legislative provisions repealed in 2012 regarding unlawful industrial action and coercion, outlaw organising and participating in unlawful pickets and provide for maximum penalties of $170,000 for those who break the law.
Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox urged Parliament to pass the Bill without delay, saying the community had a ‘legitimate and direct interest’ in ensuring costs on large-scale projects were reasonable and that the rule of law was upheld within the industry.
“Under the legislation which was repealed by the previous Federal Government, productivity in the construction industry improved and construction costs were lowered which led to more affordable infrastructure for the community,” Willox said in a statement.
ACA executive director Lindsay Le Compte says his organisation supports the ABCC’s reintroduction.
“The ACA’s view is that the legislation will significantly assist in maintaining stability within the industry. It would also improve public confidence in the ability of Australian businesses and workers to undertake construction work in a cost efficient and reliable manner and support investment and jobs in infrastructure construction across the country,” Le Compte said.
Prior to its abolition by the previous Labour government in 2012, the ABCC was popular with industry groups, many of whom credit the organisation with reducing unlawful industrial action and restoring order to the industry.
Pointing to a number of cases in Victoria, however, both employer groups and the Liberal government say thuggish behaviour has re-emerged since the ABCC’s abolition.
A mass blockade of the Myer Emporium site in Melbourne in August 2012, for example, saw work disrupted for several weeks in spite of a court order to cease such activity.
In November that year, meanwhile, a dispute at the Little Creatures brewery site in Geelong saw workers being subjected to throat cutting gestures and facing other threats of being killed or having their heads stomped in.
Unions remain opposed to the Bill, which the Construction, Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) calls a ‘witch-hunt’ against blue collar workers.
In a flyer sent out to union members last November, CFMEU secretary Dave Noonan said the proposed new laws discriminate against workers in one sector of the economy, give the new regulator excessive powers and do little to address underlying problems on construction sites.
“The reinstatement of the ABCC will do nothing to address the real problems in construction, like sham contracting, tax evasion, employers cutting corners and safety,” Noonan wrote. “On the contrary, construction workers will again be forced to think twice about taking action over bad safety. They will be hounded over petty issues – like flying union flags on cranes – and disputes long resolved with their employers.”
The latest developments follow a finding earlier this week by the Fair Work Commission that CFMEU officials deliberately misused entry rights at sites of four Lend Lease projects in South Australia.
The officials now face the prospect of indefinite suspension of their right to enter the sites.