Why we need a strong construction union, not the ABCC

April 22, 2016
The ABCC will have coercive powers that make their officials like a one-sided police force that you cannot question.

The federal government's move to reintroduce the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) is an attempt to make it harder for the unions to go in and fight for workers' rights and conditions in all parts of the construction industry.

Conditions in the building industry are now extremely varied. At the Barangaroo development the big builders are doing massive hours but their workers are paid decently and their safety is reasonable to good.

But as you move into the suburbs where construction is booming —Western Sydney now has tower cranes everywhere — it is a warzone. If you can get in and out of that site and work a few days without being hurt, you are doing well.

Deaths and injuries in construction are the worst in the past decade. This year alone 10 deaths have been recorded in Australia. There are 37 workers injured every day in the building industry, which is a reflection of the different standards of safety in the sector.

At the same time there are wide variations in the wage system: some workers are paid $5 or $10 an hour and others are on decent wages, which are enough to pay mortgages and support families.

The ABCC will have coercive powers that make their officials like a one-sided police force that you cannot question.

They are not interested in building sites with bad safety records. But they will go to a building site and question workers who stopped work to talk about the appalling conditions they work under. What they want to know is who was there and what they said.

They do not want to know if the builder is paying the correct wages for those workers. They do not want to know if student workers are being exploited. They do not want to know if 457 visa workers are being exploited. They do not care about any of that. The government just wants to destroy the wage system in this country and drive the working class down.

It was an earlier Liberal government, under John Howard, which originally brought in the ABCC, and other anti-union laws like WorkChoices. But when Labor's Kevin Rudd replaced Howard, did they get rid of all these anti-union laws?

No, they did not. They sucked up to big business and kept the ABCC in place. They just renamed it the Fair Work Building and Construction (FWBC) and reduced its funding, which meant the officers could not get to as many building sites.

Now they want to increase the rights of these ABCC officers and give them more powers than they had in the Howard days.

The Turnbull government and the Abbott government before it, point the finger at the CFMEU's finances, and the trade union royal commission is trying to throw enough mud to make the general public think that we are all corrupt. But that is so far from the truth.

Every now and then there might be someone who does the wrong thing. When we find people who have acted wrongly we kick them out of the union. That is how we deal with them. We say if the police have any evidence, bring it to us and we will look at it together. We do not want corruption within the CFMEU ranks, nor do we want it in government.

I am running as a NSW Senate candidate for the Socialist Alliance. The Socialist Alliance believes that workers should have the right to stand up for themselves. We believe workers should have a fair day's pay for a fair day's work, and that if a worker has safety issues, they should not be afraid to come forward and say we have to deal with this issue.

The Socialist Alliance calls for the scrapping of all anti union laws and for a workplace Bill of Rights that guarantees workers and unions the right to organise and protest and gives full recognition of unions and union representatives. We campaign for serious penalties to be brought into industrial health and safety legislation and for full powers for health and safety representatives to close down unsafe and unhealthy sites.

[Howard Byrnes is a state councillor and member of the Committee of Management of the NSW branch of the CFMEU. He is standing as a federal Senate candidate in NSW for the Socialist Alliance. Read more of the Socialist Alliance's Charter of Worker and Trade Union Rights here https://socialist-alliance.org/policy/workers%E2%80%99-rights-and-industrial/charter-worker-and-trade-union-rights]

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