A key industry body is claiming the building and construction union is out of control, saying the building industry in Australia has returned to the bad old days where construction unions once again hold employers and the public to ransom by using coercion, illegal strike action and illegal blockades of building sites in the pursuit of unlawful claims.
Australian Industry Group (AIG) chief executive Innes Willox says a recent outbreak of what he calls ‘militant and unlawful’ behaviour in the construction industry with regard to the Grocon dispute is reminiscent of the days when the Builders Labourers Federation wreaked havoc on the industry, the community and the national economy.
“Unfortunately, the good times are over,” Willox says, referring to the relative order in the industry which followed the Cole Royal Commission and the deregistration of the BLF. “What we have now is a determined push by some construction unions to once again hold employers and the public to ransom using the old tactics of coercion, the pursuit of unlawful claims, illegal strike action and illegal pickets.”
In addition to the current pickets of Grocon sites, Willox is particularly concerned about reports that the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) is trying to coerce the company into employing workers nominated by the union.
Prior to the banning of such ‘nominated labour’ claims in 2005, the CMFEU used these provisions to force builders to employ militant unionists as opposed to simply hiring the best person for the job, Willox says.
Willox also says action by the CFMEU is hampering the ability of governments to deliver badly-needed infrastructure to the community by creating an environment of uncertainty for building firms. He says this uncertainty is factored into tender pricing, and thus the cost of infrastructure to taxpayers, and impacts the willingness of some firms to participate in tender processes.
“The community has a legitimate and direct interest in ensuring that construction costs are reasonable and that taxes are well spent, including on roads and other vital infrastructure,” Willox says. “The community also has a direct interest in ensuring that the rule of law is upheld.”
The government’s fault?
Willox says the federal government is partly to blame, saying the deterioration in the building work environment is a direct result of the watering down of National Construction Code Guidelines, increased power to unions in the Fair Work Act, the repealing of vital provisions of the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act and the ‘neutering’ of the Office of the Australian Building and Construction Commissioner.
Last week, Fair Work Building and Construction (FWBC) – the agency which replaced the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) as the national building regulator for industrial relations earlier this year – claimed it was doing everything that would have been done by its predecessor with regard to the Grocon dispute.
Willox disagrees, saying the FWBC has diverted significant resources away from dealing with unlawful industrial action.
AIG’s comments about government reforms mirror similar comments made by building industry groups last week.
Master Builders Australia chief executive Wilhelm Harnisch said last week that the latest debacle served as a demonstration of how the current industrial relations framework can be exploited by unions.