Employers have attacked Labor’s promise to scrap the construction industry regulator and federal building code, warning the changes would undermine the economic recovery and leave companies “at the mercy of militant unlawful unions”.
As well as abolishing the Australian Building and Construction Commission, Labor has promised to replace the building code with a procurement policy that promotes collective agreements, the role of unions, a secure supply chain and apprenticeship opportunities.
The policy promises to prevent the “victimisation of employees as a result of their choice to be a member of a union”, promote the important and legitimate role of unions and union delegates; and recognise the “legitimate role of union officials in enrolling and representing workers on site or in the workplace”.
Master Builders Australia chief executive Denita Wawn said the proposed code would “decisively tilt the balance toward militancy and away from productivity”.
“Far from being a modern progressive policy, scrapping the ABCC and the building code foreshadows a return to an ‘olden days’ approach to industrial relations that is totally at odds with Labor’s stated intention to create an environment that rewards hard work,” she said.
The policy would “seriously undermine economic recovery as private investment will not be encouraged by a construction sector that is at the mercy of militantly unlawful unions”, she added.
“Just as our industry’s economic multiplier effect is being harnessed to accelerate recovery with governments investing in construction projects around the country, Labor wants to green-light a return to construction union tactics that are proven to sandbag productivity,” she said.
“Not even Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd went this far.”
Attorney-General and Industrial Relations Minister Michaelia Cash said the Coalition re-established the ABCC in 2016 to ensure building sites were “fair, efficient and productive”.
Senator Cash said $12.7m in penalties had been awarded in cases brought by the ABCC since 2016, while the agency had recovered more than $2.7m in wages and entitlements for more than 4200 employees.
“It is disappointing, but not surprising, that Anthony Albanese and Labor want to abolish the watchdog which has a significant record of achievement, fighting unlawful behaviour in the construction industry and helping recover lost wages and entitlements for workers,” she said.
Dave Noonan, the CFMEU’s construction division national secretary, accused the Master Builders of acting like a “branch office of the LIberal Party”, claiming its attacks on the union were like a “dog returning to its vomit”. “They should stop running a protection racket for dodgy developers and get on board with the productive practices that kept the construction industry going during COVID,” Mr Noonan said.
He said the ABCC had wasted millions of dollars on issues such as trying to ban Eureka flags on building sites.
Backing tougher measures against sham contracting, ALP national conference delegates also supported repealing the union demerger laws that allowed for the break-up of the CFMEU, despite Labor voting for the laws in December.
Mr Noonan said Labor had “seen the error of their ways”. The union’s mining and energy division is using the demerger laws to split from the CFMEU.