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Category Archives: Australian Building and Construction Commission

Ben Schneiders
June 22, 2009

A SENIOR union leader has promised a tough line on violence and intimidation, saying it will not be condoned, amid claims of death threats and violence at the recent West Gate industrial dispute.

The dispute was used earlier this month by Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard to justify Labor keeping laws that treat the building industry and building workers differently. They include tough coercive powers that can require building workers, under threat of jail, to answer questions.

Australian Manufacturing Workers Union national secretary Dave Oliver said if allegations were proved against any organiser at his union they would be dealt with.

“Very clearly we have a policy in place, we do not condone violence, intimidation and bullying and if anything is substantiated about any allegation about our organisers we will deal with it,” he told The Age.

A union organiser was alleged to have made death threats against a security guard and his family, although these claims have been denied. Civil and criminal and court court cases are under way as a result of the dispute and Mr Oliver said he would watch what came out of them.

“If anything comes out we will deal with it appropriately, we don’t condone that (violence) whatsoever,” he said.

Ms Gillard has been criticised for using the dispute despite none of the allegations being proved by a court. Labor’s stance has enraged many unionists.

Electrical Trades Union state secretary Dean Mighell said construction union organisers would be “laughed at” if they told members they should vote Labor at the next federal election.

http://www.theage.com.au/national/union-boss-promises-tough-line-on-violence-20090621-csm5.html

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

Font Size: Decrease Increase Print Page: Print Ewin Hannan and Patricia Karvelas | June 16, 2009
Article from: The Australian

FORMER ACTU president and now federal Labor MP Jennie George has declared building unionists have fewer rights than “most hardened criminals”, underlining ALP caucus unrest over plans to keep coercive powers for the construction industry.

Tasmanian Labor MP Dick Adams also hit out at the retention of the powers and Victorian senator Jacinta Collins said she was yet to be convinced the government would introduce adequate safeguards to deal with her concerns.

Several other Labor MPs raised concerns about the proposed laws at a special briefing of the employment caucus group last night, with some vowing to push their opposition in a broader caucus meeting today.

Despite the unrest, Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard is expected to succeed in getting a bill retaining the powers through caucus. One prominent left-winger, who would not be named, said the government had “stitched up” the issue and it would be difficult to seriously oppose it. “They’ve locked everyone in,” the MP said. “None of the left-wing ministers or parliamentary secretaries can say anything now.”

The bill’s final passage faces delay, as the Greens will refer it to a Senate committee when it comes before the upper house next week. A day after former union leader and now senator Doug Cameron attacked the coercive powers, Ms George differed from fellow former ACTU presidents, Simon Crean and Martin Ferguson, who have both backed their retention.

“Like many people, of course, I have concerns about the use of coercive powers against trade unionists, powers that don’t even apply in the case of most hardened criminals, who under our laws still have the right to silence,” Ms George told The Australian.

She said she would have a more detailed position once she had examined the legislation, including proposed safeguards.

“As a matter of principle, I think the use of coercive powers in the manner that has been used hitherto, where people are hauled before people and asked to dob in their mates and if they don’t there is the threat of penalty, it just seems to me that is not something that I would condone.”

Ms Gillard will highlight an array of safeguards that were recommended by former judge Murray Wilcox.

It is expected any notice to compulsorily interrogate a person would be issued only by a presidential member of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, who would have to be satisfied that the worker had information or documents relevant to an investigation; that the information was important to the investigation’s progress; and if there was no other way of obtaining the information.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman would monitor the compulsory interrogations and report to parliament annually. The legislation governing the interrogation powers would be subject to a five-year sunset clause.

Mr Adams said it was wrong to have two sets of laws and they would be resisted.

“I believe that everybody should be treated equally,” he said.

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25642552-2702,00.html

Phillip Coorey
June 11, 2009
EVEN if unions succeed in changing Labor policy to abolish the building industry watchdog, the Government will not adopt the change, Kevin Rudd says.

Refusing to take a backward step before Labor’s national policy conference in July, Mr Rudd said the Government would stick to its policy, regardless of what happened at the conference.

Unions are hostile about there being a separate set of laws for building workers. The Howard government established the Australian Building and Construction Commission, which has strong powers of coercion to investigate militant behaviour on building sites.

Labor promised to replace the ABCC by January 2010 with a new organisation. It is yet to decide whether the new body will have the same powers as the ABCC but is hinting they will be similar.

The unions believe there should be no such body at all.

But Mr Rudd said the pre-election commitment to establish a new body was explicit. “We did not say at the time that we would be abolishing the function altogether,” he said.

A senior Government figure said there was exasperation at the national secretary of the Australian Workers’ Union, Paul Howes, for backing the push against the ABCC.

The Opposition workplace relations spokesman, Michael Keenan, said the whole exercise was a charade. “If Labor was serious about ensuring law and order is maintained in the building and construction sector, Kevin Rudd would retain the ABCC,” he said.

Ewin Hannan | June 10, 2009
Article from: The Australian

INFLUENTIAL union leader Joe de Bruyn has declared Labor does not have a “mandate” to scrap the coercive powers of John Howard’s building industry watchdog in its first term, contradicting construction unions, which are leading a national campaign to have the powers abolished.

While the ACTU has declared the abolition of the powers its No1 issue, Mr de Bruyn said the Rudd government did not promise before the 2007 election to scrap them. The national secretary of the right-wing Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association also refused to commit to supporting a motion to next month’s ALP national conference demanding the powers be scrapped immediately.

“Our position is very clear: there should be one law for all workers, but the government doesn’t have a mandate for that in its current term of office because it didn’t say that to the people of Australia when it went to the polls,” Mr de Bruyn told The Australian.

He said Labor went into the last election promising to replace the Australian Building and Construction Commission with a new body within Fair Work Australia in 2010. “It was elected and therefore that is its mandate, and I would expect that it is going to continue to say that,” he said.

“I think, long term, the government should do something different but I don’t expect they will change their view in the current term of office. Everything that was in its industrial relations platform is part of its mandate. There can be no argument about that.”

Mr de Bruyn’s comments will be welcomed by the Rudd government, which has spent the past week rolling out a succession of cabinet ministers, including Julia Gillard and former ACTU presidents Martin Ferguson and Simon Crean, to reject the union push to weaken the ABCC.

As Kevin Rudd stood firm on the issue yesterday, Labor strategists are also likely to use Mr de Bruyn’s comments to try to undermine the union campaign to confront Labor’s political wing at the ALP conference.

Responding to Mr de Bruyn last night, ACTU president Sharan Burrow urged the government to negotiate with unions to settle the dispute over the ABCC.

“Unions acknowledge the new Fair Work laws starting on July 1 are a major step forward for workers and we welcome the government’s other achievements for working families in relation to maternity leave and safeguarding jobs in tough economic times,” she said.

“However, the ACTU believes that the laws covering construction workers are unfair and have no place in Australia’s industrial relations system. We urge the government to sit down and discuss a resolution to the issue.”

Urging unions and cabinet ministers to stop their public brawling and “take a cold shower”, Mr de Bruyn drew a distinction between the party platform agreed at the last ALP national conference and the promises taken by the then opposition to voters at the subsequent election.

“What Labor says in its platform, adopted at its last national conference, is what it was aspiring to do,” he said. “What the Labor government has a mandate to do from the people of Australia is what it said in its election promises, and the two areas are a little bit different.”

He said the report by the Wilcox inquiry, which said the ABCC’s coercive powers should be retained for five years, “is one of the factors that has to be taken into account and cannot be ignored”. Building unions have criticised the Wilcox findings.

“I would expect that the government will seek to implement the Wilcox recommendations, but the unions will say, ‘Yes, but we want to go further’, and I think that is what the discussions need to be about,” Mr de Bruyn said.

“The government at the moment doesn’t have a mandate from the people to go further, but the unions do want it to go further and I think that’s the issue that needs discussion.”

The Prime Minister yesterday reaffirmed Labor’s position on the ABCC, and stared down Australian Workers Union national secretary Paul Howes over claims the government was “sending in the stormtroopers” to quash debate between the party’s political and industrial wings ahead of next month’s ALP national conference.

“I meant what I said prior to the last election and I said about the future of the ABCC that it would continue and that there would be a replacement body by 2010,” Mr Rudd told Sky News.

“Furthermore on the substance of it, and you’d have to be Blind Freddy not to conclude that there have been historical problems, most particularly in the Victoria and West Australian divisions of the construction division of the CFMEU (Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union).

“There will always be limits to how far we can responsibly go, and we have made that very plain to our friends in the trade union movement.”

Dave Noonan, the national secretary of the CFMEU’s construction division, disagreed with Mr de Bruyn.

“I would say that there is absolutely a mandate,” he said.

“I think it was absolutely clear that Labor said they were going to abolish the ABCC. We had a difference with them about the timing.

“They said they would keep it until 2010 but nowhere did they tell the Australian people that they intend to maintain coercive powers. And Forward with Fairness, which was the policy they took to the Australian people, says that Labor doesn’t agree with separate (laws) for workers.”

Mr de Bruyn said cabinet ministers and union leaders should stop “slanging off at each other in the media”.

“I do think that all of us should go and have a cold shower,” he said.

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25613561-601,00.html

ANDREW DOWDELL, ADELAIDENOW REPORTER
June 10, 2009 12:01am

BATTLE lines have been drawn between unions and the Federal Government amid threats of a national strike over the prosecution of an Adelaide rigger.

Ark Tribe, 47, faces being the first Australian worker jailed for failing to attend an industrial commission set up by the Howard government.

Tribe was charged under federal laws with failing to attend a hearing in October last year before the Australian Building and Construction Commission, set up by the former federal government to target union activities within the buildingindustry.

Yesterday, about 200 union members gave the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union member a raucous welcome to Elizabeth Magistrates Court.

“This is one of the most historic days in industrial relations in Australia ever,” CFMEU secretary Martin O’Malley said. He added Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had gone back on an election promise to dismantle the ABCC.

“You can kill people on building sites. Bosses kill workers left right and centre; if it’s them they get fined. But if a worker doesn’t turn up to a hearing they can get jailed for up to six months.”

Mr O’Malley said if Tribe eventually was convicted and fined or jailed, a national strike was likely.

“We are not going to stand back and let our members be jailed without repercussions,” he said. “The ACTU last week have passed a motion relating to taking industrial action and it’s just not going to go away.

“This is going to be sorted out and it will be sorted out until these laws are gone.”

Defence lawyer Steven Dolphin said Tribe would fight the charges to the end.

“The Federal Government today has made a historic decision to charge an ordinary Australian worker under the old Howard industrial relations laws,” Mr Dolphin said.

“We are instructed to pursue every defence possible under the law to help Mr Tribe overcome the situation.”

Tribe was not required to enter a plea during yesterday’s brief court hearing and the case was adjourned until August, to allow defence lawyers time to formulate their case.