Building and Construction Industry Improvement Amendment (Transition to Fair Work) Bill 2011
Combined Construction Unions Opening Statement to Senate Inquiry.
A submission has been made to this Committee on behalf of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the Australian Workers Union, the Communication, Electrical and Plumbing union and the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union.
The main elements of the construction unions' submission are as follows:
The Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act (‘theBCIIA’) currently regulates industrial relations in the building and construction industry, in conjunction with the Fair Work Act.
This legislation represents the last vestige of the discredited Workchoices era.
A number of the recommendations for legislative change made by Commissioner Cole, in addition to being identical to Liberal Party policy, were included in the first Building Industry Bill rejected by the senate, and were subsequently included in the Workchoices legislation.
It is instructive that the Master Builders Association, who advocate the retention of the BCIIA, were amongst the leading supporters of Workchoices and that their submission to the 2005 Senate Inquiry into that legislation stressed the close interaction between the Workchoices Bill and the BCIIA.
The Australian Labor Party has gone to the last two elections with an explicit policy to abolish the ABCC. There can be no doubt that the Government has a mandate to abolish the ABCC. Those who argue for the retention of the current legislation unamended ignore this mandate and demand that the Government break its promise.
The current legislation has been found to breach conventions of the International Labour Organisation on no less than eight occasions. The ILO Committee of Experts and Committee on Freedom of Association have repeatedly requested Australia to take steps to ensure that legislation relating to the building and construction industry is brought into line with these conventions. When Australia ratifies conventions of the ILO, we as a nation undertake to give effect to those conventions in our domestic laws. Those who argue for the retention of the current legislation are in fact proposing that Australia should ignore these undertakings.
The ABCC has acted in a biased and one sided manner since its inception. This is demonstrated by its lop sided record in relation to the prosecution of workers and unionists for alleged breaches of the law, whilst it has ignored blatant and widespread unlawful behaviour by employers. The construction unions have never argued that there should be no regulator in relation to industrial relations, but submit that in order for a regulator to be effective it must enjoy a measure of support and respect from all industry participants.
The ABCC has abused the draconian coercive powers granted to it by the current legislation. Following the failure of the prosecution of construction worker Ark Tribe, the ABCC has been forced to admit that every one of the 203 coercive notices issued up until the end of 2010 were invalid. Every worker forced to attend coercive interrogations by the ABCC was therefore subject to unlawful behaviour by the very body charged with upholding the rule of law.
Those who argue for the retention of the status quo often couch their arguments in highly colourful and emotional terms about the need to deal with issues such as alleged violence, intimidation, thuggery and corruption. These are matters subject to criminal law. If and where criminal offenses are alleged, they are investigated and prosecuted under criminal law in the construction industry and in every industry.
As a matter of legal fact, the ABCC and BCIIA only deal with industrial law. There has been a deliberate and calculated campaign by the ABCC and its supporters to blur this distinction to mislead and confuse the public. This resort to the politics of moral panic demonstrates the lack of factual arguments to support such discriminatory and repressive legislation.
The ABCC has had a negative effect on Occupational Health and Safety in the industry.
There is no credible evidence that the ABCC has had any positive impact on productivity in the industry. The only source for the proposition that the ABCC has improved productivity is the discredited series of reports produced by Econtech, all of which were bought and paid for by either The Master Builders Association or the ABCC itself.
The combined construction unions support the passing of the Bill, with appropriate amendments. In particular, the Bill should be amended to ensure that coercive powers are not available to any body which replaces the ABCC.
In addition, any replacement body should not be a separate body but should come under the ambit of the Fair Work Ombudsman, in accordance with the commitments contained within “Forward with Fairness”.
AMWU, AWU, CEPU, CFMEU
Feb 3, 2012
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