By Alexandra Marriott
As regular readers of the VECCI Blog would know, VECCI is strongly opposed to the Federal Government’s plans to devolve the functions of the Australian Building and Construction Commissioner to a specialist division of the Fair Work Ombudsman.
Victoria’s building and construction industry is beset by more industrial issues than any other state, generally surpassing or equalling lawlessness in the Western Australian industry.
A recent Federal Court judgement has highlighted the lawlessness that undermines the Victorian building and construction industry – specifically, the conduct of the Victorian branch of the CFMEU.
Federal Court Justice Richard Tracey slammed the CFMEU’s Victorian branch record in two separate judgments, relating to a demarcation dispute that resulted in unlawful blockading at the Melbourne Markets Relocation Projects site between 19 and 28 May 2010, despite court orders not to do so. Justice Tracey noted that 28 cases had cost the CFMEU $2.7 million in fines, of which $2.3 million was attributable to the Victorian branch.
Describing the ‘disproportionate’ penalties, Justice Tracey said, “It is inconceivable that the national governing councils of the CFMEU were and are unaware of the significant misconduct of the branch and the detrimental consequences for its members… They are either unable or unwilling to curb the unlawful activity of the branch.”
Justice Tracey’s comments emphasise VECCI’s concern that the building and construction industry in Victoria can remain competitive, and hang on to the small victories won by the ABCC.
The impending absence of the ABCC raises real concerns of a return to the bad old days, despite the Federal Government’s assurances that the division of the FWO will remain a ‘tough cop on the beat’.
The sunset provisions regarding the ABCC’s special powers will certainly mean that the building industry regulator will have fewer tools with which to undertake its important, and strategic, work.
It is incumbent upon the CFMEU to bring the Victorian branch back into line to ensure that such future misconduct does not reoccur – and in turn, it is incumbent upon the Government to ensure that the building and construction industry remains adequately monitored and regulated.
As such, we renew our calls on the Federal Government to closely consider the Bill to devolve the ABCC – the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Amendment (Transition to Fair Work) Bill – which is currently scheduled for hearing in the winter sittings of the Federal Parliament.