It’s back to the future for the building watchdog
THE new government’s revamped building watchdog is beginning to take shape and it will surprise no-one that it will be almost identical to the organisation established by the Howard Government to attack building workers’ rights.
Last week, the worst suspicions were confirmed when it was announced that two notorious WorkChoices-era officials would be put in charge of the Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate.
John Lloyd and Nigel Hadgkiss were respectively the commissioner and deputy commissioner of the Australian Building and Construction Commission. In a case of back to the future, Hadgkiss has been appointed the new chief executive of the FWBII, and Lloyd will chair an advisory board.
Their appointments confirm that the watchdog will again have a brief to attack workplace rights and unions while turning a blind eye to the activities of employers and to health and safety in the industry.
Restoring watchdog a high priority for government
The government has indicated passing the laws that will re-establish the ABCC is one of its first priorities alongside abolishing the price on carbon when Parliament resumes next month.
The previous Labor Government scrapped the ABCC and its powers to compel witnesses to provide evidence under threat of jail, but to the disappointment of unions retained a separate regulator for the building industry within the Fair Work Commission. The Coalition wants to restore to the regulator all the powers it had as the ABCC.
Lloyd and Hadgkiss were both responsible for the ABCC’s lowest point: the failed prosecution in 2010 of Adelaide building worker Ark Tribe.
Hadgkiss will switch to his new job from a very similar position as head of the Victorian Government’s Construction Code Compliance Unit. He will leave the CCCU under a cloud after the Victorian Government was recently ordered by the Federal Court to pay $55,000 in penalties after being found to have breached workplace laws by enforcing its construction code.
The Victorian Government had sought to block two large construction companies from being awarded contracts for government projects because of so-called “union-friendly” clauses in their workplace agreements. In handing down the penalties on 11 October, Justice Mordy Bromberg was heavily criticial of the actions of the CCCU, headed by Hadgkiss.
WATCH: Ark Tribe’s story
John Lloyd has form as not only former commissioner of the ABCC, but subsequently as a highly-partisan commentator on workplace issues for the right-wing think tank the Institute of Public Affairs. He was a cheerleader for Qantas when it grounded its entire fleet two years ago, and has supported cuts to penalty rates in the restaurant and catering industry. You can see more of his track record here.
The CFMEU, which is the bete noire of Lloyd, Hadgkiss and their ideological fellow travellers, said both men had a history of bias.
Addressing the union’s national conference last week, CFMEU Construction Division Secretary Dave Noonan, said the new Coalition Government had no mandate to resume its attack on building workers.
He said Tony Abbott and Eric Abetz were seeking to generate a “moral panic” to justify the imposition of extreme undemocratic laws against one sector of the community.
“You will notice Abbott and the LNP always resort to lies and distortions when it comes to the role and remit of the ABCC,” Noonan said. “They seek to argue that construction workers are in some way criminal in their conduct, and that the ABCC is the answer.
“Of course there is simply no credible evidence of criminality by the union; the Cole royal commission did not result in one prosecution. But even if there were such evidence, such behavior would be a matter for the police.
“The ABCC and FWBC are industrial relations regulators only and have no power over criminal matters. Abbott and Abetz know this; the fact is that they deliberately choose to resort to smears and outright lies against construction workers and their unions.”
Employers have welcomed the two appointments and all eyes now turn to Federal Parliament, which begins its final four weeks of sittings for the year on 12 November.
Working Life is a forum to share ideas and opinions about work and life, both light-hearted and serious. The opinions presented on Working Life are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent policies or views of the ACTU.