On May 30, Labor's industrial relations spokesperson Julia Gillard shocked many unionists when she announced at the National Press Club that a Rudd Labor government would retain the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) until January 31, 2010. This back flip comes a month after Labor decided, at its national conference, to abolish the hated body. ACTU president Sharan Burrow said she did not support the delay.
Gillard justified Labor's decision like this: "We will not tolerate old school, thuggish behaviour ... I understand there is persistent and pervasive unlawful behaviour in the construction industry. Under a Rudd Labor government there will not be a single moment where our construction industry is without a strong cop on the beat."
These comments by Gillard echo previous comments by her. On May 15, she said that an ALP government would "stamp down" on "unlawful conduct in the Australian building industry". Responding to a journalist's question about what she meant by "illegal behaviour", Gillard replied it was "industrial action outside a bargaining period".
She added: "Our policy is very clear. There is only a small amount of time in which a group can take industrial action in pursuit of a new collective agreement. Apart from that it is unlawful ... It will be stamped out."
When asked about the practice of building industry workers taking industrial action when a worker is killed on the job, Gillard replied that the only time industrial action is lawful is when it's taken "in a protected period because it is about bargaining for a new agreement". "Any other sort of industrial action is unlawful", she said.
Responding to a question about the reduction in the number of strikes, Gillard talked up the ABCC. "It is the existence of [the ABCC's] powers and personnel out on building sites that's made a difference. We will be bringing those things forward with us [into the new specialist building industry division]. We will have tough compliance."
Gillard, in her National Press Club speech, also praised the Hawke Labor government for replacing centralised wage fixing with enterprise bargaining measures because, she said, it had halved the number of days lost from industrial disputes.