Industry Groups Say Brighter Tomorrow Is As Easy As ABCC


It’s taken a number of years, but yesterday (November 29, 2016) it was announced that the Government has officially and successfully restored the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABBC) to the building industry.

So what does this mean?The commission was brought back to resume its role monitoring the building and construction sector, enforcing civil workplace laws such as restrictions on unlawful industrial action and industrial threats.

The Australian Financial Review outlined three key elements of the new ABCC which will affect the industry:

  • A tough new building code for Commonwealth-funded building projects.
  • Triple penalties for unlawful industrial action and coercion. The penalties are likely to hit hard, but will be a while before they start having effect.
  • Specific laws to combat union pickets in the industry, inspired by the CFMEU's conduct at the Grocon dispute in 2012.

Industry opinion
Industry groups have already expressed their opinion on the news of the ABCC re-establishment, with the general consensus positive.

“The Australian Building and Construction Commission is a proven economic reform," Property Council Chief Executive Ken Morrison said.

Mr Morrison called the ABCC “the industrial cop on the beat that our industry needs” to tackle lawlessness head on.

“The passage of this legislation is good news for the industry, for the economy, and for the workers who have suffered from bullying and intimidation on construction sites.

“The Royal Commission told everyone what we already knew – that we have a major problem of union lawlessness in the construction sector. Two thirds of all industrial disputes are in the construction sector and disputes are at the highest levels in six years,” Mr Morrison said.

“The last time we had an ABCC, our members reported productivity improvements of between 10 to 20 per cent. We can expect productivity improvements again.”

The Housing Industry Association also weighed in on the legislation return, saying “the restoration of the ABCC is important in restarting the process of ridding the industry of toxic, outdated industrial practices.”

“For too long the commercial building industry has been bridled by systemic industrial lawlessness, coercion, intimidation and flagrant misconduct,” HIA Managing Director Shane Goodwin said.

“This has been well catalogued by two Royal Commissions in the past 15 years and numerous other inquiries.”

“It is also in the interests of all Australians to have increased productivity on our building sites and lower costs in the construction of crucial public and commercial infrastructure,” he said.


Coming to an arrangement
While the industry has shown the return of the ABCC is cause for celebration, it is also important to know that its return came with the support of the cross-bench, and as a result of a number deals and compromises being made in order to push the commission through.

The AFR also provided a list of the biggest compromises:

  • No retrospective building code. The code will only apply to agreements made after the building code is issued, with a requirement for all agreements to be compliant by 2018. Construction unions and hundreds of non-compliant employers will now have two years in which to renegotiate their agreements.
    • The ABCC’s powers will be at the mercy of oversight, meaning the commission will have to ask for permission from the Administrative Appeals Tribunal before exercising its authority to use its coercive powers, as well as keeping the Commonwealth Ombudsman in the loop regarding all examinations.

    • The ABC Commissioner must be apolitical and can be terminated if he or she fails to perform his or her functions with impartiality to both unions and employers.

    • ABCC will enforce employee entitlements, seeing it obliged to reign in underpayments and dodgy employers, but will “drag its focus and resources away from targeting unions”.

    • No reverse onus of proof for work health and safety matters. This means it is now up to the ABCC to prove the industrial action was not taken for legitimate safety reasons, and this has the potential to make it harder for the ABCC to prosecute cases.
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