No ABCC-lite!

April 3, 2009

The federal government's report on the future of the Australian Building Construction Commission (ABCC), released on April 3, was met with disappointment by unionists.

The review by former judge Murray Wilcox, strongly recommended keeping a special industry watchdog with the power to investigate and prosecute building industry workers and unions for suspected breaches of federal workplace laws.

Under Labor's Fair Work Act, any industrial action is deemed unlawful if it occurs during the life of an industrial agreement.

Since it's inception in 2005, the anti-union ABCC has held more than 128 compulsory interrogations and initiated 36 court proceedings, of which the overwhelming majority were against workers and unions.

The Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act — the legislation that established the ABCC — has been criticised by the International Labour Organisation for contravening the international convention on the rights of workers.

Wilcox recommended the transformation of the ABCC into a "Building and Construction Division which would operate as a unit within the Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman".

The report said the new division needs to be funded adequately in order to complete the ABCC's good work of bringing "harmony" to the industry.

In an April 3 statement, Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union national secretary Dave Noonan said the Wilcox report completely failed to address the real issue of concern in the building industry, which is the large number of workplace deaths. He also said the supposed "industrial harmony" in reality means poor health and safety conditions on building sites.

The report supported the continuation of mandatory interrogation, albeit with some minor safeguards that don't exist under the current law.

In a small concession to workers, Wilcox said workers in the building industry should not be discriminated against with hefty behavioural rules and penalties. Building workers can be fined up to $20,000 under the current law.

"Wilcox says in his report that he is very impressed with the ABCC's speedy response when called for assistance and doesn't want to see this standard of service diminished", Tim Gooden, Geelong and Region Trades and Labour Council secretary told Green Left Weekly. "What he fails to say, however, is that this fast response is a first-class service for the bosses alone.

"Strangely enough, when a worker gets killed or a subcontractor goes broke and doesn't pay the workers, the ABCC doesn't turn up at all!"

Gooden said the ABCC is a highly political commission with the aim of destroying militant unions and eroding wages and working conditions. "Wilcox recommends an ABCC lite, which we have to reject", Gooden said.

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