The new building and construction industry watchdog in Australia has hit out at claims that a dispute between construction firm Grocon and the building union has shown the new regulator to have insufficient powers to enforce law and order within the industry.
The claims centre around a dispute between Grocon and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CMFEU), under which union members have blockaded the Grocon’s Emporium site in the Melbourne CBD in defiance of a Supreme Court injunction.
Building and industry groups have cited the blockade as evidence of what they say is a return to lawless behaviour within the industry following the abolition earlier this year of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).
But in a statement released to the media on earlier this week, Fair Work Building and Construction, the new body that replaced the ABCC, says that it is doing and has done everything that its predecessor would have had the power to do.
Furthermore, the FBCC says claims the ABCC would have stopped the picket are untrue.
“These claims misunderstand the nature of the dispute. Previous legislation including the Workplace Relations Act 1996 and the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act 2005 would not have allowed the regulator jurisdiction to stop the picket” the FWBC says in its statement.
“FWBC has actively pursued alleged breaches with the same strategies and legislative recourse that would have been exercised by any previous regulator”.
In its statement, FWBC says that following receipt of allegations of unlawful conduct at a Grocon site in McNab Avenue in the west Melbourne suburb of Footscray in Victoria on August 20, its inspectors attended the site and commenced an investigation into a number of possible breaches of the Fair Work Act.
Separately, Grocon commenced action in the Supreme Court of Victoria seeking (and obtaining) an injunction relating to a picket that which was in effect at the site. Subsequent injunctions were obtained with regard to the company’s Emporium site and its sites at 150 Collins Street and at the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre.
Importantly, in so far as its Supreme Court action regarding injunctions is concerned, Grocon did not allege any breaches of the FW Act – the only alleged breaches of the Act arising out of the original allegations for which FWBC was called.
Because of this, neither the FWBC nor its predecessor could have intervened in Grocon’s case as far as the picket line is concerned.
Whilst the ABCC did intervene in matters in the past, it did so only in cases where the Workplace Relations Act 1996, the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act 2005 and the Fair Work Act 2009 were alleged to have been breached, FBCC says.
Furthermore, the regulator says it is undertaking a thorough review of potential breaches of the FW Act to which the initial allegations relate, and will initiate appropriate civil penalty proceedings with respect of any breaches if appropriate.
As for questions about what the FWBC is doing about claims of violence and the involvement of bikies and abuse at the pickets, the regulator says it has no power to investigate claims of criminal activity, but would refer any relevant information collated in the course of its investigation to the appropriate state policing authorities.
Violence was unacceptable in the building and construction industry, it said.