The Abbott government in Australia should stop discriminating against blue collar construction workers and should abandon its legislation to reintroduce the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), the leader of a key building industry union in Australia says.
Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union Secretary Dave Noonan has called on the government to dump the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill 2013 which seeks to reinstate the former ABCC and abolish its original replacement body Fair Work Building and Construction (FWBC), saying the Bill discriminates against workers in one sector of the economy, violates rights of construction workers and could even lead to workers being reluctant to speak out about safety.
“The Federal Government apparently believes that discriminating against blue collar workers in one industry is acceptable” Noonan said in a statement late on Friday, adding that the laws will not apply to any other sector of the workforce.
“If these laws were applied to other people in our community on the basis of ethnic background, sexual identity or gender, there would be an outcry.”
Noonan says the laws are not only extreme – allowing the Commission to compel workers to attend secretive interviews without the right to silence or legal representation of their choice – but will also make workers on site reluctant to speak out about safety issues.
He uses the example of Ark Tribe a rigger who was hauled before the Adelaide’s magistrates court in 2010 for failing to attend a compulsory ABCC interview in 2008 to respond to questions about a stop-work meeting he and a group of workers held over safety concerns at a site associated with a Flinders University construction project (Tribe was acquitted because the summons he had received to appear at the ABCC was issued by the wrong person).
“Ark Tribe was hauled through the courts for months on end for doing what is an every day occurrence on construction sites: speaking up about safety” Noonan says, adding that the ABCC would do nothing to address worker concerns such as sham contracting, tax evasion and rorts, lost wages and entitlements.
“The weight of these laws will be felt by ordinary men and women who work in the construction industry. Workers will, understandably, think twice about speaking out, or taking action on bad safety if they are subject to such punitive laws.”
Introducing its Bill last week, the government says restoring the ABCC would boost productivity and restore law and order to the industry – a view largely shared with building industry groups who welcomed the Bill.
It said there have been a number of cases of unlawful activity including illegal strikes and threats of violence since the ABCC was abolished by Labour, 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.