While the Federal Government has been returned, uncertainty remains over whether it will get its Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) legislation through the new and untried Senate. Its failure to do so previously was a trigger for the election.
The Government’s stated aim for restoring the ABCC includes combating unlawful and corrupt activity within the construction industry – particularly involving the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU).
She argues that the Government’s real agenda is “to curtail the industrial power of the CFMEU and weaken the union movement”, while treating “corporate ‘lawlessness’” with laxity. Ms Mallia says industry regulators fail to pursue employers over safety breaches, the improper winding up of companies to avoid payment of debts, and the non-payment of $137 million annually in wages and superannuation in the construction industry.
She argues that restoration of the ABCC with strengthened industry policing powers threatens “a gross erosion of civil liberties”. Specific measures she identifies, include denying construction workers the right to silence and to legal representation of their own choice, and compelling them to produce documents or information relevant to an investigation. She notes concerns expressed by the Law Council of Australia about the ABCC legislation, including in relation to the burden of proof and the privilege against self-incrimination.
For Rita Mallia, there is even more at stake in the dangerous construction industry which can experience scores of fatalities in a year. Hindering the CFMEU from taking industrial action over safety issues in the workplace, including with the possibility of it incurring $180,000 fines, could potentially put workers’ lives at risk.
However, “while our members’ safety and lives are at stake,” says Ms Mallia, “the CFMEU and its members will continue to take action to have improved safety on site.”
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