Labour law expert calls for ABCC to be scrapped

July 26, 2008

"The ABCC [Australian Building and Construction Commission] should be abolished … and its powers should be subsumed by the Workplace Authority and its successor, Fair Work Australia", Professor Ron McCallum AO from the law faculty at the University of Sydney told Green Left Weekly on July 22.

Asked about the contempt charge against Noel Washington, the Victorian Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union official who is refusing to give evidence to the draconian ABCC, McCallum replied that the commission's investigative powers "are too broad" and there are "insufficient safeguards" provided to those being investigated.

McCallum argued that building workers should not face harsher laws than other workers. "The same anti-strike laws should apply to all workers, and construction workers should not be covered by special laws", he said.

In November 2005, the International Labour Organisation made six recommendations to change the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act. Australia is a signatory to the ILO conventions.

In particular, the ILO's Committee on Freedom of Association criticised the act's restriction on building workers' rights to strike, saying that it "is one of the essential means through which workers and their organizations may promote and defend their economic and social interests".

The ILO's recommendations were rejected by the former Howard Coalition government and so far have been ignored by the federal Rudd Labor government. McCallum believes that the Australian government "should seek to comply with all of the ILO conventions to which it is a signatory".

Commenting on the inquiry into the ABCC by retired Justice Wilcox, McCallum said that "there should be a re-examination of the commission's powers which appear to be unduly broad in relation to its powers to question construction workers, their union officials and related persons".

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