Employers demand sharper teeth for construction watchdog

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Employers demand sharper teeth for construction watchdog

Employers and building contractors want changes to the planned replacement to the ABCC because a ‘new culture’ in the building industry has not yet been bedded down.

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Employers and building contractors want changes to the planned replacement to the ABCC because a ‘new culture’ in the building industry has not yet been bedded down.
 
In particular, they want the power to ‘switch off’ the coercive powers for trouble-free projects removed from the legislation.
 
The Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) and the Australian Constructors Association (ACA) are calling for the amendments because they regard them as essential to ensuring that the reforms that have been so vital to the industry are not lost.
 
Behaviour has changed
 
‘While behaviour in the industry has changed — as is evident in the record low level of industrial disputation, high wages growth and higher productivity — a new culture has not yet been achieved or bedded down,’ said Ai Group chief executive, Heather Ridout.
 
‘Strong measures need to be maintained which involve treating the building and construction industry differently from other industries.’
 
‘Among the amendments being sought by Ai Group and ACA, is the removal of the provisions relating to the Independent Assessor.'
 
‘It is entirely inappropriate for the legislation to allow the compulsory examination powers of the Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate to be "switched off".'
 
Undermine effectiveness
 
‘This would seriously undermine the effectiveness of the laws and is inconsistent with the recommendations of the Wilcox Review on the safeguards required.’
 
Under the proposal, unions could apply to have the coercive powers switched off. The ‘switching off’ provisions can apply to multiple sites and be approved prior to the project starting.
 
While the powers can be switched back on if trouble starts, there are concerns in the industry that contractors would fear retribution in such cases.
 
ACA president Wal King said that without the amendments proposed by Ai Group and ACA there would be increased risks and costs.
 
‘If the Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate proves to be ineffective, the risks associated with increased industrial disruption to projects will be substantially heightened,’ he said.
 
‘Return to the old days’
 
‘This would lead to a return to the old days, where such higher risks had to be priced into construction contracts, leading to greatly increased costs for project owners (including Governments) and the Australian community.’
 
The amendments to the Bill sought by Ai Group and ACA include:
  • The ‘switch off’ provisions relating to the compulsory examination powers of the Independent Assessor need to be deleted.
  • The five-year sunset provision applicable to the compulsory examination powers needs to be deleted and replaced with a review after five years.
  • It is important that the existing higher penalties that apply to building industry participants for breaches of industrial law be retained.
  • The Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate needs to focus upon ensuring appropriate and lawful industrial behaviour and preventing unlawful industrial action, and not have its resources diverted to dealing with underpayment claims, which are best addressed by the Fair Work Ombudsman.
 
The proposed amendments are set out in a joint Ai Group–ACA submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, which is inquiring into the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Amendment (Transition to Fair Work) Bill 2009.
 
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