Unions step up campaign to abolish the ABCC

The Building Industry Group (BIG) unions have decided to up the ante on the campaign to abolish the undemocratic Australian Building Construction Commission (ABCC).

The BIG unions include the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the Australian Workers Union, the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU), the Electrical Trades Union and the Plumbing Trades Employees Union of Australia.

On April 7, shop stewards from the BIG unions will meet in Melbourne and Brisbane to discuss the campaign. The ABCC is notorious for acting as a secret police force in the building industry.

Former federal court chief justice Murray Wilcox was commissioned to review the ABCC and his long-awaited report was released on April 3.

In the past, Wilcox has condemned the legislation for being undemocratic. His recommendations, however, fully support the ongoing existence of a building industry watchdog.

The ABCC was created by the Howard coalition government in 2005 to crush the industrial muscle of the building unions by criminalising basic trade union activity. The ABCC's draconian powers, however, extend well beyond building industry workers.

While the ABCC says it is neutral, the vast majority of investigations have targeted unions and workers, not bosses who breach health and safety regulations or workplace agreements.

Sacked Melbourne West Gate Bridge workers have been filmed and followed by the ABCC since they started their protest campaign for reinstatement and the right to an appropriate workplace agreement five weeks ago.

Any member of the general public can be subject to its draconian laws and be forced to cooperate and attend its interrogations.

In mid-2008, unions mounted a successful national campaign, including street protests and stop work meetings, in defence of CFMEU official Noel Washington.

Washington was charged under the 2005 Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act for refusing to attend a compulsory interview with the ABCC. Non-cooperation with the ABCC is punishable with a potential six months jail sentence.

In November 2008, the Commonwealth Department of Public Prosecutions formally withdrew charges against Washington, which industry observers believe was related to the federal Labor government wanting to avoid the embarrassment of thousands of angry workers protesting against the ABCC just one week after it introduced its Fair Work bill to parliament.

ALP federal senator, Doug Cameron, told the Age on March 5 that the ABCC will be phased out by January 2010. This is not true. Labor has always planned to keep the industry watchdog in one form or another, as yet another concession to big business.

Unless there is strong industrial and political campaign that succeeds in abolishing the ABCC and is able to block the setting up of any kind of special building industry watchdog, building workers and their unions will remain unequal before the law.

For more information on the campaign against the ABCC visit <http://www.rightsonsite.org.au>.

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