Proposed Federal building Bill needs more work: bosses

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Proposed Federal building Bill needs more work: bosses

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Ai Group were today calling for amendments to tighten the proposed building and construction Bill, while the new Federal Workplace Relations Minister stepped out today highlighting the need for the Bill.

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The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Ai Group were today calling for amendments to tighten the proposed building and construction Bill, while the new Federal Workplace Relations Minister stepped out today highlighting the need for the Bill.  

Although ACCI and the Ai Group supported the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Bill 2003, both called for amendments to clarify and strengthen its operation.

Speaking at the Financial Review conference on the Cole Royal Commission today, the Federal Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews said the Cole Royal Commission revelations that numerous unlawful practices were taking place in the building and construction industry could not be ignored, and were the driving force behind proposed new laws, not ideology.  

‘The Royal Commission concluded that the widespread disregard for criminal, civil and industrial laws has marked the building and construction industry as singular. This cannot be ignored.’

ACCI stance

ACCI, in conjunction with the State Chambers of Commerce, Master Builders Australia, the Housing Industry Association, the National Electrical  Communications Association and the Master Plumbers and Mechanical Services Association, supported the Government’s draft Bill.

But according to ACCI chief executive, Peter Hendy the following tighter controls were necessary: 

  • the removal of AIRC power to cap working hours and overtime;
  • political protests that resulted in strikes ruled unlawful;
  • forgoing the new ‘concept’ of genuine bargaining, and keeping the existing;
  • cooling off periods for strike action and laws against ‘no ticket no start’ reined in; and
  • the closing of the loophole that allowed banned union officials to enter a site using OHS certificates.

Hendy said more clarity concerning the following would improve the laws:

  • the interaction of the proposed Australian Building and Construction Commission, the ACCC and the AIRC;
  • the proposed role of Federal Safety Commissioner in relation to the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission;
  • the definition of ‘building work’; and
  • the Bill’s interaction with the Federal Workplace Relations Act.

He believed the following additions were also necessary: 

  • transitional provisions to assess the commercial impact of the Bill;
  • objects concerning women and young workers;
  • project agreements operating as industrial awards;
  • restricted ministerial interference in the ABCC and the FSC;
  • checks and balances for the Commonwealth Building Code and Commonwealth OHS accreditation scheme;
  • simplified legal remedies for unlawful industrial action; and
  • no deregistration for one act of non-compliance, where other remedies exist. 

Ai Group 

Ai Group chief executive, Bob Herbert said coverage of the proposed legislation must be limited ‘to those activities which are typically recognised within Australia’s workplace relations system as being part of the building and construction industry’.

Currently, the proposed legislation seeks to incorporate large sections of the manufacturing and services sectors as part of the building and construction industry.

‘Such an approach could lead to construction industry terms and conditions flowing into other industry sectors,’ Herbert said.

‘Ai Group is constantly faced with claims by unions such as the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) and the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union (CEPU) to extend construction industry terms and conditions to areas outside of the commonly accepted boundaries of the building and construction industry.

‘The legislation, as drafted, would increase the risk of the unions’ claims succeeding.’

Herbert said that as the Bill broadened the role of the National Code of Practice for the Construction Industry and the supporting Implementation Guidelines, the Code should be given regulatory status.

‘This would ensure an appropriate degree of Parliamentary and judicial scrutiny in respect of any amendments made to the provisions of the Code or amended interpretations of the provisions. ‘

The Ai Group also wanted the proposal related to pattern bargaining tightened (see previous article)

Labor can’t deny

Andrews said even the Labor party with it’s commitment to workplace consultation could not deny the need for reform - the Royal Commission found that opportunities for consultation were ‘routinely denied’.

Some of the other unlawful and inappropriate practices cited by Andrews included unions pressuring contractors through industrial action to have a union endorsed bargaining agreement; and unions acting as an arbiter of who could and could not work in an industry sector.

But he conceded that the building and construction industry was also characterised by illegal and improper payments.

Industrial disputes

However, Andrews was also concerned that while the building and construction industry represented 5% of Australia’s gross domestic product and in 2002-03 it was a $40 billon industry employing 700,000 workers, it was resisting reform and had the worst record for industrial disputes.

He said that last year the building and construction industry accounted for 40% of Australia’s industrial disputes.

But while construction has a large number of disputes, it doesn’t have the most number of working days lost per thousand employees (see previous article).

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, since the year ending August 2002 and for years ending July 1999, July 2000 and July 2001, the most working days lost per thousand employees due to industrial disputes was in the coal mining sector, not the construction sector. 

Reform timetable

Andrews said the draft Building and Construction Bill 2003 that was released for public comment last month will be formulated into a Bill and introduced into Parliament before the end of the year.

However, it won’t make much progress until early 2004, as the Senate has referred the draft and any follow-up building and construction Bills and related matters to a Senate Committee inquiry which isn’t scheduled to table a report until early 2004 (see previous article).

In addition to the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Bill, the Federal Government is planning to create a new enforcement body for the construction industry - the Australian Building and Construction Commission; and establish a Federal Safety Commissioner and a Commonwealth Code and Industry Guidelines.

For more information see: ACCI and Ai Group.

 

  

 

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