Victorian Trades Hall Council: 'abolish the ABCC'

April 24, 2009

An April 28 mass protest called by six national building industry unions against the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) in Melbourne has received full support from the Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC).

The protest comes after the April 3 release of the Wilcox report into the ABCC, which strongly recommends keeping a task force with the power to interrogate and prosecute building workers for taking industrial action.

Since it was formed in 2005, the ABCC has been politically driven. Its purpose is destroying or neutralising the industrial power of the militant construction unions. The big majority of compulsory hearings and court proceedings started by the ABCC have been against workers and their unions.

VTHC secretary Brian Boyd told Green Left Weekly he never believed former judge Murray Wilcox, who headed the inquiry, would reverse the previous Howard government's attacks on building workers.

Boyd said the Wilcox report argued building workers specialised treatment in terms of their industrial rights and ability to operate through trade unions, compared to the rest of the workforce.

Under draconian laws, building workers can be forced to attend compulsory hearings and be threatened with jail sentences for non-cooperation with the commission. The ABCC has the power to interrogate anybody it wants.

Recently, two publications covered an industrial dispute at the Melbourne West Gate Bridge reconstruction project. This led to journalists' notes being subpoenaed by the ABCC.

Boyd opposed Wilcox's recommendation to keep a special industry watchdog. He said it "can still subpoena and interrogate building workers with no legal rights nor remedies".

Wilcox proposed the ABCC be transformed into a "Building and Construction Division" as a special unit within the Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman, and be well-funded to continue the ABCC's work in bringing "harmony" to the industry.

"This has nothing to do with harmony or peace in the building industry", Boyd said. "The building industry deserves to have strong unions to organise workers because it is a dangerous industry with exploitative employers that rip off workers ever day, go bankrupt or don't pay entitlements to workers.

"What we have, in fact, is a specialised police force, called the ABCC, that undermines the basic democratic rights of building workers to act like other workers in Australia to protect themselves."

Boyd rejected any kind of specialised task force as it would treat building workers as second-class citizens when it comes to their industrial rights and would favour bosses. This is what the ABCC does now.

"The purpose of the ABCC, or any other kind of task force, is to protect the employers so they can keep making big profits and are able to take away rights of building workers so they can't protect themselves on a wages and conditions level or an occupational heath and safety level", he said.

At an April 7 combined delegates' and shop stewards' meeting in Melbourne, 500 building workers unanimously voted in favour of a non-cooperation policy with the ABCC. The meeting also supported a call for industrial action from construction unions and the Australian Council of Trade Unions should anybody be penalised or jailed for non-cooperation.

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