Union Clash over ABCC

(4 votes)

In a clash of the ‘common man’ and the Coalition, tension is building high as the newly appointed Abbott government begins to unroll its promised policies. The first order of business is to instate perennial ‘industry baddie’, Nigel Hadgkiss, as the new chief of the Fair Work Building and Construction.

In a move that puts pressure on the already strained relationship between unionised workers and the state, the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, cannot help but be reminded of the tenuous times from 2005 to 2008, when Mr Hadkiss’ reign as deputy head of the Australian Building and Construction Commission saw him publicly slander workers.

Widely known as an anti-union activist, “Hadgkiss is infamous for his persecution of workers as well as his role in botched attempt to jail Ark Tribe”, affirms CFMEU State Secretary Bill Oliver. The November 2010 legal battle, saw a union member wrongly accused of refusing to attend an ABCC interrogation, a situation that further incited the union workers to fight for the abolishment of the “attack dog” and its laws.

But what happened to the FWBC’s former chief Val Gostencnik? For reasons unknown and after a hasty exit – he lasted a mere two months on the job - Mr Hadgkiss’s predecessor tendered his resignation. In what mimics a move ignited by the fear of a union uprising, the former head of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, John Lloyd, is pressing for an urgent reinstatement of the ABCC. However, Labor leadership candidate Bill Shorten warns that the opposition, with the inclusion of the Greens, will condemn any action to reintroduce the ABCC, saying "construction workers do not need a separate system of laws from other Australian workers."

As a call to action that will reignite Australia’s international productivity and competitiveness, the Prime Minister is confident that he will successfully undo all that was put in place during the Gillard-government - within his first 100 days.

The Australian Mines and Metal Association, whose priorities lie with investment and employment is a loud supporter of the Abbott plan and looks forward to “attracting international trade relations into new resources exploration,” explains chief executive Steve Knott. And while the Master Builders Association asserts that the re-establishment of the ABCC would mean “$7.5 billion in benefits for consumers”, and consultancy firm Econtech foresees a raise in wages and a reduction in income tax rates, it’s hard not to be swayed by the figures.

Although these findings look favourably on the past progress of the ABCC, it is important to note that recordings on industry productivity during the Fair Work Building and Construction’s run are at a flat zero; this clearly creates an unfair case. However, is such a discrepancy enough to save the underdog?

In June 2012, the dismantling of the ABCC inspectorate by the Federal Labor Government was a win for union workers, and although its successor body didn’t completely appease the situation, it did welcome more freedom and fewer penalties. Nevertheless, employer accusations of worker violence and intimidation, an issue highlighted in the 2012 Grocon dispute at Melbourne’s Myer Emporium building site, only adds fuel to the fire and further confirms the government’s belief that reintroducing the ABCC will work to stamp out militant behaviour.

The ABCC website

Though adamant that construction company WATPAC is not an ‘anti-union’ establishment, CEO Martin Munro, alleges that under the Fair Work Building and Construction body “relations between unions and employers was a ‘swinging pendulum’ that had swung too far in favour of unions.” Reports from the Australian Bureau of Statistics of a higher rate of industrial dispute during the first four years of the FWBC, including 222 in the nine months following September 2012, do little to wave away Munro’s concerns. Next year’s July Senate changeover isn’t looking pretty. Whether union reports of draconian ruling are on point or not, the research also reveals that workers preformed better during the former ABBC’s presence.

The impending changes to Labor’s industrial relations system is devastating news for union bodies within the mining industry. The loud voices and sweaty palms are no coincidence. This could indeed be the precursor to a deja-vu war-zone of workers struggling to protect their rights while employers push even harder for increased productivity.


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