Watchdog coming to building sites

FEDERAL Workplace Relations Minister Tony Abbott has confirmed that the Government will set up a new agency to enforce the rule of law on construction sites.

The Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry recommended the Government form the Australian Building and Construction Commission, which would have similar powers to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and include Federal Police and Commonwealth Department of Public Prosecutions officers.

Mr Abbott told the National Press Club he expected opposition from the Labor State governments to the new agency.

“For the States the issue is whether they are prepared to refuse Federal money in order to protect the closed shop,” he said.

“State Labor governments, which have made a point of their middle-ground credentials, risk losing some $4 billion a year in Federal building and construction grants if they side with the union movement’s most militant minority.

“There are likely to be limits to Labor’s defence of a union whose stock-in-trade, at least in some States, is the site invasion and demand for payment and which quietly reinstates organisers sacked for assault or perjury.”

A recent meeting of State, Territory and Federal industrial relations ministers agreed that the “unlawful behaviour” in the building and construction industry was unacceptable.

WA Consumer and Employment Protection Minister John Kobelke said he was concerned that improvements and cultural change in the building and construction industry might be hampered by existing problems in the Federal Workplace Relations Act.

“In its current form the act is less than adequate in resolving disputes when they arise,” he said.

Mr Abbott also told the Nat-ional Press Club the Government was considering a separate act that would govern industrial relations in the building and construction industry and would provide for pre-strike secret ballots, compulsory cooling off periods after extended strikes and damages awards in the event of ‘unprotected’ industrial action.

Under the Workplace Relations Act a union can take ‘protected’ industrial action during the bargaining period for a new industrial agreement.

Mr Kobelke has said a Federal watchdog body such as the ABCC was not needed in WA because the Government had formed the Building Industry and Special Projects Inspectorate to police the construction industry.

Members of Western Australia’s building industry and the organisations that represent them told WA Business News that the $60 million royal commission would have been for nought if the watchdog organisation it recommended was not formed.

They say the WA Government’s Building and Special Projects Inspectorate has been a toothless tiger.

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