Business heats up building reform push

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Business heats up building reform push

While business groups and the Federal Government wanted to tighten the screws on the building industry, the CFMEU was lobbying minor parties to force the proposed laws into a senate committee inquiry. 

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MBA and ACCI are throwing their weight behind the Cole Royal Commission recommendations in the lead up to the release of federal draft industrial building laws in the next fortnight.

New laws based on the Cole Commission’s enterprise bargaining recommendations would help the economy be more competitive internationally, according to Master Builders Australia CEO, Wilhelm Harnisch. 

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive, Peter Hendy said: ‘ACCI strongly supports the underlying theme of the Royal Commission report - that changes to unacceptable industrial practices and cultures in parts of the industry must start with an acceptance of the rule of law by all parties, and the enforcement of that rule of law.’ 

Federal Workplace Relations Minister, Tony Abbott told last week's Workforce Conference in Melbourne the draft building laws based on the Cole Royal Commission recommendations provided for secret ballots and a new industry watchdog the Australian Building and Construction Commission. 

The draft laws also sought to prevent pattern bargaining and would be introduced to the Federal Parliament in November, after a period of consultation. 

Ban pattern bargaining 

The MBA want pattern bargaining banned and limits placed on protected industrial action as a way to improve productivity in the building and construction industry. 

'The way that pattern bargaining in the building and construction industry currently operates is one-sided, inflexible and anti-democratic: the union puts a template agreement on the table and says "sign this or else"', Harnisch told the Workforce Conference in Melbourne last week.  

'Building industry unions impose outcomes through coercive commercial force and deny individuals their democratic freedom. This must stop.’  

ACCI's support

ACCI’s Hendy said: ‘It is important for Parliament to debate and review any proposed legislation, however a Royal Commission is an inquiry of the highest form in the land and its recommendations must be taken seriously.  

‘The challenge for policy makers and industry participants is to rise above the propaganda of those who defend or excuse the unlawful and inappropriate behaviour found by the Royal Commission, and those who put it all in the too hard basket.’ 

ACCI saw the following as key recommendations of the Cole Commission:

  • defining lawful industrial action, including placing limits on strike action;
  • implementing industry specific building legislation;
  • introducing a new building regulation;
  • addressing collective bargaining;
  • ending coercive agreement making practices;
  • improving OHS and accountability for taxation compliance, superannuation and corporate governance;
  • clarifying union right of entry;
  • reviewing industry practices against trade practices compliance and increased sanctions; and
  • increasing penalties for unlawful conduct by employers and employees.

However, Cole recommendations related to group taxation, BAS statements for non-ATO purposes, preventing workplace agreements nominating funds for superannuation purposes and AIRC’s powers regulating maximum working hours were rejected by ACCI.   

Project agreements

The Ai Group is calling for amendments to the Federal Workplace Relations Act to ‘provide a genuine mechanism for the certification of project agreements’ in the construction industry.

The Ai Group position paper made it clear that pattern bargaining had no place in the building and construction Industry and should be outlawed. 

For more information on the Ai Group’s stance see previous story.

Force more debate 

While business groups and the Federal Government wanted to tighten the screws on the building industry, the CFMEU was lobbying minor parties to force the proposed laws into a senate committee inquiry. 

According to the CFMEU, ‘the Government does not want building workers to be able to work together to bargain for better wages and conditions across the industry.  

‘They want a system where workers are either bargaining individually or limited to their employer. 

‘The right of workers and unions to choose the best level at which to negotiate is to be taken away.’ 

Among other reforms, the CFMEU said the Federal Government also wanted to restrict the ‘basic human right’ of building workers to strike and blacklist from Commonwealth Government contracts employers who invite unions onto premises without 24 hours notice. 

The Greens had already assured the union movement at August’s ACTU congress they would not support any laws that removed workers rights, but did support the idea of a senate inquiry. 

Green Spokesperson for Industrial Relations, Kerry Nettle told the Congress: ‘Some people say senate inquiries are not balanced but it would be a lot more balanced than the Royal Commission, which isn’t hard.  

‘The Greens will continue to defend the rights of working people and unions on the streets and in Parliament.  

‘We won’t be supporting any legislation that takes away the rights of workers and gives more power to employers or this anti-worker government and minister.'

The Democrats were considering sending the proposed laws to a Senate Committee.

 
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