Major business and industry groups including the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group), the Business Council of Australia (BCA), and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and the Industry (ACCI) have welcomed the passing of the ABCC legislation through the Senate.
The ACCI did not mince its words, stating the only people who should be concerned about the restoration of the ABCC are “construction union thugs”.
“Australian taxpayers can now have greater confidence that they will get better value for money from spending on major infrastructure projects without being slugged with the cost of union misconduct that blocks the efficient delivery of schools, hospitals and roads,” says ACCI CEO James Pearson.
“Contractors, who are often small businesspeople and tradies, will have the benefit of a regulator with stronger powers to address closed shop practices that exclude them from work opportunities because they chose not to sign up to a trade union or require their staff to do so. Amendments agreed during the bill’s passage through Parliament will further protect subcontractors by giving them greater security of payment,” he adds.
Ai Group chief executive, Innes Willox, says the rule of law is set to be re-established on building sites.
“The significant increase in penalties that will apply to unlawful conduct should ensure that the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) changes its current unacceptable approach of blatantly disregarding industrial laws. If it does not, the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) will have the necessary powers to hold the union to account.”
The BCA chief, Jennifer Westcott, points to the four Royal Commissions over 40 years as evidence the building and construction industry needs its own regulator.
“The ABCC will be empowered to deal with the systemic corruption and unlawful conduct identified in the industry,” Wetscott notes.
“As the third biggest employer in the Australian labour market, a well-run and efficient building and construction industry is vital for the Australian economy. The Business Council is pleased we now have a mechanism to ensure the poor behaviour of a few workers cannot continue to disrupt the hard work of many.”
Westcott believes the ABCC will also restore community confidence in the workplace relations system.
“The ABCC will be empowered to deal with the systemic corruption and unlawful conduct identified in the industry. It will be an impetus for cultural change and ensure workers, unions and employers are all responsible for ensuring their workplaces operate lawfully.”
On the other side of the argument, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) claims the passing of the ABCC legislation is “an attack on our democracy”.
“The ABCC bill will see the resurrection of an ideological watchdog that stripped workers of their fundamental legal freedoms and removed the rights of working people working collectively to seek safe conditions and decent pay,” a statement from the ACTU said.
According to the ACTU, the updated ABCC will remove the legal right to silence for construction workers; reduce job security for working people; reduce the employment of apprentices; ban limits on hiring casuals and obstruct employees seeking the help of their union on safety issues.
“This government does not have a plan for our economy or the creation of a single job. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has simply picked up where his predecessor, Tony Abbott, left off and wants to attack working people, no matter the cost,” says ACTU assistant secretary Scott Connolly.
“Every argument the Turnbull Government has given for re-establishing the ABCC is based on pure fantasy.”