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Ewin Hannan | June 17, 2009
Article from: The Australian

THE Rudd government plan to switch off coercive powers in selected parts of the construction industry was giving unions a “get out of jail free card”, especially in Victoria, which had become the “heart of darkness” for industrial standover tactics and intimidation.

Builders yesterday criticised Labor’s proposed changes to the construction industry watchdog, warning proposed safeguards surrounding the use of coercive powers would hinder the ability to combat unlawful behaviour.

Peter May, a Melbourne commercial building contractor, said he was surprised by Labor’s plan to switch off coercive powers in parts of the industry deemed peaceful. “If that part of the industry is peaceful then there should be no need for the coercive powers to be used,” he said.

“Switching them off just encourages the unions to move to that part of the industry or that particular site where life isn’t as difficult for them.”

Mr May said the safeguards proposed for the use of coercive powers by the new building industry inspectorate could prove to be counter-productive.

“It does make it very bureaucratic, it does make it very cumbersome and it does make it harder for the ABCC (Australian Building and Construction Commissioner) to use their powers effectively,” he said. “It’s OK having the tough cop on the beat, but you don’t want to hamstring them with excessive bureaucracy.”

He said the existence of the ABCC and the imposition of the coercive powers had led to the building industry “undergoing a lot of change for the good”. “A lot of the unlawfulness on building sites is very hard to prove and that’s why the coercive powers are needed,” he said.

Brian Welch, executive director of the Master Builders Association of Victoria, said the switch-off proposal was like giving unions a “get out of jail free card”. “We can see that Victoria is the heart of darkness when it comes to industrial standover tactics and intimidation,” he said. “I have grave reservations over these constraints.

“You are dealing with witnesses that are intimidated and clearly you need to have powers of coercion to get to the truth.”

ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence welcomed the end of higher penalties for building workers, but wanted construction industry employees to have the same rights as all other Australian workers.

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25648363-5013404,00.html

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