All recent amendments to the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act should be reversed and the previous regulator of industrial relations in the building and construction industry should be reinstated, according to an 11-point plan outlined by two industry groups to restore order in the building and construction industry in Victoria.
Releasing the plan on Monday in a joint submission to the Hadgkiss Inquiry into the Victorian Building and Construction Industry, the Australian Industry Group (AIG) and the Australian Constructors Association (ACA) say the industrial relations climate within Victoria has deteriorated over the past three years, with the Grocon dispute in Melbourne serving as a prime example.
“Industry and the community were appalled at the unlawful conduct of unions, workers and activists during the recent Grocon dispute,” Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox says, adding that the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) ignored an order of the Supreme Court to end the picket and widely distributed photographs of workers who defied the blockade, labelling them ‘scabs’.
“What we saw was a determined push by some construction unions to hold employers and the public to ransom using the old tactics of coercion, the pursuit of unlawful claims, illegal strike action and illegal blockades,” Willox says.
Willox adds the rise in illegal conduct is a direct result of Australian government decisions to water down laws preventing such conduct, give more power to unions and abolish the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). The two groups called for the organisation’s reinstatement.
In order to rectify the situation, the AIG and the ACA have issued 11 recommendations. In addition to reinstating the ABCC and reversing the recent amendments to the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act which came into force in June, these include:
- Expanding the list of ‘unlawful terms’ in the Fair Work (FW) Act
- Fixing the provisions of the FW Act which give the unions too much power when negotiating greenfields agreements
- Granting Fair Work Australia new powers to deal with unlawful pickets without detracting from the rights that parties have to seek injunctions and damages under tort law
- Giving the Federal Court of Australia and the Federal Magistrates Court the power to grant an injunction if unlawful industrial action or unlawful picketing action is being engaged in, or is threatened, impending or probable
- Expanding the existing restrictions on persons holding office in registered organisations if convicted of violent offences
- Expanding the duties of officers and employees of registered organisations to ensure compliance with orders of State Courts, as well as orders of the Federal Court and Fair Work Australia
- Issuing new federal Implementation Guidelines for the National Construction Code modelled on the 2006 version of the Guidelines
- Abolishing the existing Commonwealth policy position that any enterprise agreement made under the FW Act is deemed to be compliant with the Federal Guidelines
- Amending the Victorian Government’s IR Guidelines for the construction industry to outlaw the enterprise agreement clauses which were the subject of the ADJ Contracting case
- Allocating more resources to educating head contractors, subcontractors, industry groups and unions about the Victorian Governments IR Guidelines for the construction industry.
The latest appeal for change follows calls on the part of Independent Contractors Australia to prosecute violence and harassment on worksites as well as to investigate reports that bikie gangs and drug trafficking operations are active within parts of the industry.
Willox warns that any failure to restore order to the industry will damage investor confidence, reduce productivity, increase construction costs, worsen building industry unemployment and lead to more building firm collapses.