22/05/2008 - 14:58

Builders back Feds over watchdog

22/05/2008 - 14:58

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The building industry has welcomed a federal government review of the sector's industrial relations watchdog, saying it is "a positive sign that the government is committed to maintaining a tough cop on the beat".

Builders back Feds over watchdog

The building industry has welcomed a federal government review of the sector's industrial relations watchdog, saying it is "a positive sign that the government is committed to maintaining a tough cop on the beat".

Master Builders Australia, the peak body for the building and construction industry, has backed the inquiry into the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) replacement.

Construction unions had been hoping the Rudd government would scrap or water down the powers of the ABCC, which has helped to dramatically reduce industrial disputes in the construction industry.

The ABCC's actions have included prosecuting members of the Construction, Forestry, Mining & Energy Union over unlawful industrial acton taken on the Mandurah rail project.

Industrial Relations Minister Julia Gillard today announced that Justice Murray Wilcox will head the inquiry to examine the options for a new inspectorate for the building and construction industry and the laws it will uphold.

The new legislation and inspectorate will replace the ABCC in 2010.

Ms Gillard committed to retaining the current system and the existing laws until 1 February 2010, when the handover to the new system will take place.

"The Wilcox review is the sign the industry has been waiting for - that beyond 2010 we will be able to continue to operate productively and without fear of a return to a culture of bullying and intimidation," said Wilhelm Harnisch, CEO of Master Builders Australia.

"We have had nothing but support for the ABCC and the laws that it upholds, as it has delivered unprecedented industrial peace and productivity to our industry.

"The forward looking nature of the Wilcox Inquiry is seen by Master Builders as a clear vote of confidence in the effectiveness of the ABCC," said Mr Harnisch.

"Ms Gillard has today reaffirmed a commitment to maintaining industrial peace and maintaining a culture of lawful behaviour in the building and construction industry, saying that the Government has 'no tolerance for behaviour that breaks the law'.

"Master Builders will be working with Justice Wilcox and the Minister to ensure that the new inspectorate and the underpinning legislation beyond 2010 will be equipped with the same tough powers of compliance and policing that the ABCC currently has," said Mr Harnisch.

"Any weakening of the watchdog's powers will put the Government's pledge to deliver on massive, vital social and economic infrastructure projects in jeopardy.

"The review announced today is the first step in an 18 month consultation process and preparation of draft legislation. This is necessary to ensure that all key stakeholders, employers and employees have appropriate input into and confidence in the new inspectorate when it is introduced," said Mr Harnisch.

Below is the full announcement from Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Julia Gillard:

The Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Julia Gillard today attended the Australian Building and Construction Commission's Industry Consultative Forum.

It is the first time since 2006 that the Forum has been attended by all industry participants.

The Rudd Labor Government is committed to ensuring that all participants in the building and construction industry comply with the Australia's workplace relations laws to the letter.

The Rudd Government has no tolerance for behaviour that breaks the law whether it be unlawful industrial action or underpayment of employees.

It is the intention of the Rudd Labor Government to always have a tough cop on the beat in the building and construction industry.

The Rudd Labor Government will deliver on its pre-election commitment to retain the Australian Building and Construction Commission until 31 January 2010 and to replace it at that time with a specialist building and construction division of the inspectorate of Fair Work Australia ('the Specialist Division').

Consistent with our commitments last year, we will shortly commence a process of extensive consultation with industry stakeholders about ensuring that the transition to those new arrangements will be orderly, effective and robust.

This will involve a process of consultation and report which will be conducted by the Honourable Murray Wilcox QC, a former Australian Federal Court judge.

As announced at the Forum, it is the Government's intention to seek feedback on the terms of reference to be issued to the Honourable Murray Wilcox QC.

Subject to feedback received on the terms of reference, the Government will ask his Honour to consult and report on all matters related to the creation of the Specialist Division including but not limited to:

  • The operational structure of the Specialist Division and its relationship with other parts of Fair Work Australia;
  • The independence and accountability of the Specialist Division;
  • The need, if any, for external monitoring, review or oversight of the Specialist Division;
  • The scope of investigations and compliance activities to be undertaken by the Specialist Division;
  • The powers required by the Specialist Division and its inspectors for the purpose of conducting investigations and compliance activities;
  • The rights of persons who are subject to the investigations and compliance activities of the Specialist Division;
  • The responsibilities of the officers of the Specialist Division;
  • The reporting requirements of the Specialist Division;
  • The resolution of disputes and complaints about the activities of the Specialist Division;
  • The use of information collected by the Specialist Division in its investigations;
  • The commencement of proceedings by the Specialist Division;
  • The interaction of the Specialist Division with other federal enforcement agencies such as the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, the Australian Taxation Office, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and with relevant State enforcement agencies;
  • The likely resources to be required by the Specialist Division and the ways of ensuring those resources are efficiently and effectively allocated;
  • The best ways of ensuring high quality personnel are recruited to and retained by the Specialist Division and are properly trained and supervised; and
  • The best manner of ensuring an orderly transition between the ABCC and the Specialist Division.

The terms of reference will be finalised by the end of June. His Honour will commence work after that.

In order to properly undertake this task, the Government has asked his Honour to consult with all industry stakeholders about their views on the best arrangements for the operation of the Specialist Division. His Honour will seek and consider public submissions on the finalised terms of reference.

Consistent with the balanced and measured approach the Rudd Labor Government has taken to the development of new workplace relations laws generally, it is the intention of the Government to give his Honour a sufficient period of time to fully and comprehensively consult and consider the matters on which he is asked to report.

The Government has therefore asked his Honour to report by the end of March next year.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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