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Issue #1760      December 7, 2016



The Communist Party of Australia condemns in the strongest possible terms the passing of the bill re-establishing the former Howard government’s Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). Nine unprincipled Senators on the cross benches joined members of Turnbull’s Coalition government in pushing the bill through on November 30. The ABBC bill and the Building Code that comes with it are a taste of what lies in store for all workers in 2017.

The passing of Tony Abbott’s bill leaves workers in the building and construction and related industries more vulnerable to dodgy workplace practices including those involving health and safety, criminalises legitimate trade union activity and for the first time ever outlaws pickets, including community pickets.

The Turnbull government bought off One Nation Senators, the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT), Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm and Victorian Senator Derryn Hinch in dirty backroom deals – some of them not even related to the legislation.

Jacqui Lambie was the only cross-bencher to retain a principled position and oppose the bill. The Australian Greens and Labor Party remained solid in their opposition.

“We will also continue to fight for an end to bad and discriminatory laws that favour the interests of big property developers and multinational construction companies over the interests of ordinary working Australians,” Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union national secretary Dave Noonan said.

Already, one worker on average per week dies on Australian building sites. That figure will worsen as trade union organisation on the job becomes more difficult. And it will as the bill goes much further than Howard’s original version.

The bill strips construction workers of rights taken for granted by other workers. It goes further than the original Act under the Howard government. Apart from outlawing pickets, it narrows the definition of “protected industrial action” to such an extent that it will be almost impossible to take any form of action without the threat of being sued and facing heavy fines.

The bill triples existing penalties with individual workers and union representatives facing fines of up to $36,000 each and unions $180,000 for each offence.

The Commission retains its draconian powers to hound workers, to retrospectively take unions and workers to court years after a dispute has been resolved and denies workers the right to remain silent when being interrogated by the Commission. (See “The Australian Building and Construction Commission – Gestapo industrial relations law”, Guardian, 1728, 27-04-2016)

Under the Building Code, companies seeking government contracts will be banned from including any provisions in their enterprise agreements that limit casualisation or provide job security, promote the employment of apprentices, specify safe hours of work or limitations on excessive overtime.

This is despite the fact that such provisions are legal under the Fair Work Act. The government has committed to implementing the recommendations of the Productivity Commission’s review of the industrial relations system which would see such provisions stripped from all enterprise agreements, not just those in the construction industry.

It removes the right for an equally qualified and experienced Australian worker to be retained in a redundancy situation over a temporary overseas worker. It also restricts the ability of a trade union to negotiate an agreement or to take action regarding job security on building sites.

The Xenophon Team gained agreement on Australian standards being met on procurements and services and had the retrospective application of the Building Code replaced with a two-year phasing in period.

Greens MP Adam Bandt was critical of Nick Xenophon for not backing a Greens amendment to require 90 percent Australian steel in projects by companies bidding for government work.

Construction companies will be required to advertise first for Australian workers before bringing in 457 Visa workers – an amendment supported by the Greens, Derryn Hinch and Labor. But where are the mechanisms to enforce this, and to ensure they then employ those who apply?

Senator David Leyonhjelm also forced the government to drop the reversal of onus of proof provisions in the bill, which would have required employees and unions to prove they took action because of a reasonable concern about an imminent safety concern, rather than to coerce employers.

These amendments tinker around the edges of the Abbott/Turnbull anti-worker/anti-union leaving the main provisions in tact.

The intention of the government is to destroy an effective trade union and then come after the others with further legislation early next year. The government wants “yellow”, compliant trade unions or no union representation at all. In this way they will do the bidding of the employers to boost profits out of the wages and conditions of workers.

The Communist Party of Australia is committed to defending trade unions and their right to take action in the defence of workers. It is opposed to opportunistic trade union “leadership” and the theft of basic democratic rights by treacherous politicians.

Xenophon sold out on the construction workers for 450 gigalitres of water for which there is no guarantee. David Leyonhjelm, a staunch right-wing anti-unionist, gave his support in return for a requirement that the ABC and SBS hold community forums in regional areas.

Turnbull was desperate to demonstrate that the Coalition could govern, despite the large number of cross-benchers and Greens in the Senate and its tiny majority in the Lower House. His masters in the building and construction industry were losing patience with the Coalition, who after three years in office had failed to deliver on their industrial relations agenda.

The ABCC bill is just the beginning of a big business union-busting agenda to come. Drafting is already underway for implementation of the recommendations from the Productivity Commission’s review of the industrial relations system and the Heydon Royal Commission.

The trade union movement and left and progressive forces have a big year ahead of them in 2017. The government and employer offensive is set to heighten and the broadest unity will be required to defeat the attacks.

Next article – Editorial – The force employers fear

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