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Building task force open for business

THE Federal Government’s interim Task Force for the Building Industry has opened for business.

The bulk of the task force’s 25 staff will be based in Melbourne, although a small WA office with two staff has also opened.

The task force has started with only 13 staff with a further 12 being sought. It is understood that, once the required staff number is reached, the staffing in its WA office will double.

Federal Workplace Relations Minister Tony Abbott said his objective was for the task force to operate on a zero tolerance policy.

Task force officers will have the powers of inspectors under the Workplace Relations Act to enter premises, inspect documents and interview persons of interest.

However, it appears the officers will not be given powers of arrest. This power proved to be one of the most effective tools at the disposal of WA’s own Building Industry Task Force.

The arrest power proved a strong disincentive to overzealous union officials. However, WA’s BITF was disbanded shortly after the Gallop Government came to power last year.

Mr Abbott said the task force would operate in close cooperation with the Australian Federal Police, and in cooperation with the Australian Tax Office and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

“In addition, the task force will refer any breaches of State laws to the appropriate State agency,” he said.

The Government will provide up to $6.5 million to fund the task force until June 30.

Besides its Perth and Melbourne offices, the task force will also have an office in Sydney.

The task force was set up in answer to recommendations in an interim report from the Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry.

In his report, Commissioner Terrence Cole indicates there is ample evidence of unlawful practices, particularly intimidation and coercion, occurring throughout the building and construction industry in Australia.

Workers and contractors have testified in the commission that they have been subjected to threats and harassment by union officials, particularly those from the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, to become union members.

This posed a problem for some subcontractors because they had quoted on the job using non-union pay rates for their workers.

By being forced to sign onto the union rates, their margins for the job were greatly eroded.

Master Builders Association director Michael McLean welcomed the task force.

“I think nothing less than a task force is required,” Mr McLean said.

He was one of the major critics of the WA Government’s move to close the BITF.

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