Business wary of CFMEU’s next step

The Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry has already offered some potential outcomes that could change the face of WA’s industrial relations landscape.

BUILDERS and business are concerned the Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry may inadvertently hand control of WA’s resources sector to the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union.

There have been indications that the Terrence Cole-led commission will recommend the militant CFMEU be deregistered. How-ever, instead of being removed from the industrial landscape, there are concerns that CFMEU head Kevin Reynolds will walk the 100 or so paces down Moore Street and take control of the Australian Workers Union.

The commission is due to conclude in December.

Master Builders Association industrial relations manager Kim Richardson said his biggest fear was that the CFMEU would move into the AWU.

“That would hand the CFMEU control of mining. It would probably take Kevin Reynolds about six months, but he’d get there,” he said.

AWU secretary Tim Daly agrees there is a threat of the CFMEU taking over his union.

However, he believes it is more likely any deregistration would only result in creating a stronger union.

“The biggest threat to any union is another union moving in. When the BLF was deregistered it eventually moved in with the Building Industry Workers Union. That just created a bigger beast,” Mr Daly said.

“There is every chance that the CFMEU would do that with another union here.”

Mr Reynolds refused to speculate on the potential outcomes of the royal commission.

While the CFMEU’s title suggests it has some hold over the mining industry, its real power is over building projects in the CBD.

Builders complain that the CFMEU has a habit of striking agreements and then breaking them on a whim, and using threats to get its own way.

Business people feel it would be disastrous if the CFMEU gained control of the resources construction industry at a time when huge infrastructure projects on the North West Shelf are about to start.

The AWU has its stronghold in resources industry and civil construction projects, however the bulk of its members could easily work on CBD construction sites.

It is well regarded by industry for driving tough but fair agreements for its members and then sticking to them.

Another concern is that, instead of removing the CFMEU, any deregistration will force its practices underground.

There also are fears that deregistration will make the CFMEU even stronger. This is borne out by the results of the Federal deregistration of the Builders and Labourers Federation in the 1980s.

Governments in WA and Queensland refused to deregister the union and the BLF’s national assets were transferred to its branches in those States, helping to create a more powerful body.

It is thought likely the Federal Government will support any recommendation to deregister the CFMEU.

However, whether each State or Territory government – they are all run by Labor premiers or chief ministers – will follow suit is not certain.

Former WA Labour Relations Minister Graham Kierath said if the WA Government failed to deregister the State CFMEU branch, it would only create a stronger union.

“The royal commission can recommend the CFMEU’s deregistration and the Federal Government can do it. But if just one State refuses to deregister it, then it will have a stronghold,” he said.

“And if the CFMEU is deregistered here I think there is a strong chance that its officials will move to take over the AWU.

“Stamp out the CFMEU here and Kevin Reynolds will surface some-where else.”

Mr Reynolds, however, is unconcerned about the possibility of deregulation or a personal ban.

“They’ve tried deregulation of this union throughout the years,” Mr Reynolds said.

“It may have damaged the union’s structure, but the workers are still there.

“I’m sure they’re going to put charges against us, but banning me from holding office is not even being considered.”

The Cole commission is due back in Perth on July 22 and has already made some interim suggestions of a national task force that would operate in a similar way to WA’s successful Building Industry Task Force.

There are also concerns that the national task force will not be as effective as the BITF.

p Next week: WA Business News investigates why the BITF was so successful.

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