Howard’s way with IR building laws and more


Howard’s way with IR building laws and more

The construction industry is under tighter industrial relations control today and yesterday after the retrospectively operative Building and Construction Industry Improvement Bill sailed through the Senate.


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The construction industry is under tighter industrial relations control today and yesterday after the retrospectively operative Building and Construction Industry Improvement Bill sailed through the Senate. Also: the Better Bargaining legislation is through Lower House.

Construction industry legislation operates retrospectively

The Construction Industry Improvement Bill impacts industrial action, stiffens penalties and sets up the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) and the Federal Safety Commission (FSC) to oversee the building industry.

The new laws stipulate that no form of industrial action can be taken before the expiry date of an agreement. The laws are retrospective to 9 March 2005.

Individuals who breach the new laws can be fined up to $22,000 and corporations up to $110,000.


The ABCC will regulate the building industry and is empowered to:

  • Protect employee entitlements
  • Take action on behalf of employees who are subject to intimidation or coercion
  • Refer matters for prosecution
  • Share information with ASIO, ASIC and ACCC in relation to tax evasion, collections of workers compensation premiums and identifying phoenix companies

Using the new Federal Safety Commissioner, also established under the laws, the Government will attempt to influence OHS outcomes through companies tendering for Government building jobs.

CFMEU reaction

The CFMEU construction national secretary John Sutton describes the laws as anti union and says they do more than prevent industrial and political action.

He claims they also restrict the right of workers to a safe work place and introduce surveillance, onerous fines and uncapped damages that apply to individual workers.

He was also concerned over the ABCC’s powers to jail workers. ‘The legislation establishes a government body, the Australian Building and Construction Commission, with powers to jail workers who refuse to give evidence about statements fellow workers make at industrial meetings.’

The ABCC’s spying capabilities are also a worry. ‘To meet its objective, government officials will be empowered to spy on workers, develop a series of secret files on their industrial activity and even jail them if they refuse to dob in workmates.’

ACCI’s view

Usually the champion of less regulation, ACCI is trumpeting its approval of the now highly regulated building industry.

‘Not often is more regulation a solution, but the Royal Commission found it to be a necessary precondition to workplace change in this industry,’ ACCI chief executive Peter Hendy said.

‘New laws need to be seen as the start of a process of cultural change, not an end point.
‘Implementation should be firm, realistic and consultative. Old attitudes are entrenched and built into the fabric of commercial relationships. Over time, the effectiveness of new regulation needs to be monitored.

‘The Australian economy will benefit if the industry can eliminate inefficient work practices, increase workforce participation and contractual freedom, and improve compliance with the rule of law. ‘

AIG: concern over application elsewhere

While the Ai Group applauds the general tenet of the new building laws, it has raised concern over its broad application.

‘The legislation extends far beyond construction sites. It covers the operations of many companies in the manufacturing and information and communications technology (ICT) industries, which provide products and services used in new or existing buildings (eg. made-to-order doors, windows, building materials, fittings, shelving, ducting and telecommunications systems),’ AIG chief executive Heather Ridout said.

She feels most manufacturers couldn’t afford to operate under a building industry environment. ‘Very few manufacturing and ICT companies operate under the industrial arrangements associated with the construction industry, nor could they afford to do so given the intense pressures which exist within the global markets in which they operate,’ she said.

‘Ai Group is concerned that the Bill’s very broad definition of “building work” could lead to construction industry terms and conditions flowing into other industry sectors.’

Detailed legislation

For the full Bill go here.


Federal IR changes 2005

More IR limits on building unions

Master builders welcome legislation to control construction unions

Better bargaining through Lower House

The Lower House passed the Workplace Relations Amendment (Better Bargaining) Bill 2005 today.

The Government introduced substantial amendments to further restrict pattern bargaining.

Greg Combet, Secretary of the ACTU, commented:

'The Government's so-called 'Better Bargaining Bill' will now ban workers from asking for similar wages and conditions across multiple employers - ''pattern bargaining''.

This will be a major new restriction on the right of workers to bargain collectively. For example, it would prevent aged care nurses from seeking paid maternity leave throughout their industry. ...

At the same time, the Government is actively promoting individual contracts - the key means by which employers can reduce the wages and entitlements of employees. This is a clear case of hypocrisy by the Howard Government.'


Unions demand collective change of heart


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