Building and Industry Groups have slammed what they say is grossly unacceptable behaviour by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CMFEU) with regard to an industrial relations dispute with builder Grocon, calling for the reinstatement of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).
The call to reinstate the ABCC, a building industry regulator which was abolished by the federal government earlier this year, comes as builders hope to see unlawful industry practices stopped.
This follows a skirmish between around 500 union members with riot police on Tuesday morning as part of a continuing dispute over safety stewards and an enterprise agreement with Grocon.
Union members have been picketing the Melbourne CBD site since last week in an effort to halt work at Grocon’s Emporium site. The police presence was designed to allow Grocon staff access to the site.
The picket has continued in spite of a Supreme Court injunction which was granted to the company last week to end the blockade.
While union officials say strikers acted with restraint, Master Builders chief executive Wilhelm Harnisch condemned the CFMEU’s actions and said a change in the law is needed so that unlawful actions are met with severe punishment.
“The CFMEU’s behaviour is grossly unacceptable in any civilised society. It demonstrates how the current industrial relations framework can be exploited by the unions,” Harnisch says. “The bullying tactics displayed by the CFMEU vindicates the building industry’s call for the return of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) and dedicated industry-specific laws which target unlawful and intimidatory conduct.”
Harnisch called for a change to legislation that would see anyone who intimidates others face severe consequences.
Harnisch’s call has won support from other industry groups. The Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA) says action such as that taken by the union sends the wrong message to multinational companies investing in Australia.
Without the ABCC and without the ability to prosecute ‘militant individuals behind such illegal action’, around 90,000 new construction jobs forecasted around significant resource projects are under threat, the AMMA says.
The CFMEU, which insists that it members offered only peaceful resistance as police used capsicum spray and batons, has accused Grocon of refusing to honour an agreement struck with the union back in April that would respect the rights of union members.
The union also accuses the company of unsafe practices. It says pictures on its web site show the storage of traffic control signs on a ledge above a five-metre drop with no handrail and penetration leading to a 12 metre fall partially covered merely by flopping a sheet of plywood down.
Still, Harnisch says the union’s conduct signifies a return to unlawful behaviour following the abolition of the ABCC. He says the ABCC’s replacement, the Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate, does not have the ability to prevent lawlessness in the industry because of limitations on its authority.
“Currently, the Fair Work Building and Construction agency has not been able to intervene because it possesses severely weakened powers,” he says. “The building and construction industry needs a regulator with stronger laws to help curb militant unions and stop unlawful industrial action. The regulator should not be stopped from acting where an employer has already initiated proceedings, a constraint which dogs the current agency.”