Construction cop still needs tough powers: employers

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Construction cop still needs tough powers: employers

Employers are united in their insistence that the coercive powers and heavier penalties of the ABCC be retained in the new body to police the construction industry.

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Employers are united in their insistence that the coercive powers and heavier penalties of the ABCC be retained in the new body to police the construction industry.
 
Both the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) and the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) have told a Senate Committee that it is essential current powers be retained because, while behaviour in the industry has changed, the culture hasn’t.
 
Peter Anderson, ACCI chief executive, said that while the current workplace relations environment is not perfect, the work of the ABCC over the past five years has had a dramatic effect on the industry.
 
‘Keep the genie in the bottle’: ACCI
 
‘The genie is, in large part, “back in the bottle” and business is greatly concerned about legislative changes that may put that situation at risk and create the potential for a return to the bad old days,’ he said.
 
‘In this context, anecdotal evidence indicates that some unions are already talking about being “back in town” when the Government’s changes come into effect in February 2010.'
 
‘Whilst the industry is still a tough and demanding one in which to operate, it is also one that is now characterised by a much greater sense of predictability and certainty than was the case prior to the establishment of the ABCC.’
 
However, Anderson said changes contained in the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Amendment (Transition to Fair Work) Bill — lower fines, the repeal of unlawful industrial action provisions, and restrictions on the powers to interview — ‘all have the potential to undo what has been achieved to date’.
 
Construction industry is ‘different’
 
‘Different measures can be justified in the building and construction industry because the industry itself is different to most others,’ he said.
 
‘Royal Commissions and other enquiries dating back to 1982 have consistently exposed the violence, intimidation and disregard for the law that existed in parts of the industry, and the failure of conventional industrial laws and systems to effectively respond and deal with these issues.'
 
‘This situation does not exist in any other industry sector.'
 
‘It is critical at this time that the building and construction industry continues to be effectively controlled and regulated, given the stimulus spending being channelled into it by the Government as part of its stimulus package.’
 
Ai Group chief executive heather Ridout said the reforms introduced after the Cole Royal Commission have largely removed the unlawful and inappropriate conduct that permeated the industry and which cost project owners (including governments), employers and the Australian community vast sums.
 
‘The industry has never been a better place in which to work and invest as is evident in the current low level of industrial disputation, high wages growth and higher productivity,’ she said.
 
‘Behaviour has changed, culture hasn’t’: Ridout
 
‘However, whilst behaviour has changed, in our opinion a new culture has not yet been achieved.'
 
‘The industrial laws arising from the Royal Commission treat employers and employees in the construction industry differently to those in other sectors.'
 
‘The different approach reflects the fact that behaviour in the construction industry was so far removed from the standards in other industries, that strong measures were required.'
 
‘At some point in the future the special provisions applying to employers and employees in the construction industry may be able to be removed but not until a new culture has been achieved and conduct in the industry reflects the standards of contemporary Australian society.’
 
Amendments needed
 
Ridout called for a series of amendments to the current legislation:
  • the Independent Assessor provision be deleted. (The assessor would be able to exempt well-behaved sites from the Act.)
  • the five-year sunset clause on the coercive powers be replaced by a Senate Committee inquiry after that period has elapsed
  • the current higher penalties be maintained
  • the Building Inspectorate to concentrate on industrial behaviour and not deal with underpayment claims, which should be done by the Ombudsman.

 

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