Gillard announces review of building industry watchdog

Building businesses could face increased costs and declining worker productivity if the powers of the industry’s IR watchdog are watered down following a new review, the sector’s peak body says.

Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard yesterday announced former Federal Court judge Murray Wilcox QC will prepare a report on what the Government’s new building industry IR regulator should look like.

Labor has promised to replace the current regulator, the Australian Building and Construction Commission, with a specialised building industry inspectorate to be located within Fair Work Australia, the IR super-regulator it wants to have up and running by 2010.

Master Builders Australia chief executive Wilhelm Harnisch says it is crucial for the future of the industry that the new building industry watchdog retains the full range of powers and resources currently enjoyed by the ABCC.

“It must have the same strong statutory powers, that’s the bottom line, otherwise there is a real risk the commercial building and infrastructure sectors will face the same systemic disharmony that previously plagued it,” Harnisch says.

Unions and other groups argue current laws should be changed so that all industries are regulated under a single consistent IR regime, but Harnisch says the building industry’s history of industrial disruption and lawlessness sets it apart.

“Problems in the building industry go a long way back,” he says. “Inquiry after inquiry has found there are problems with things like unlawful behaviour and abuses of right of entry, and the reality is the industry will need a tough cop on the beat even more if the Government is to achieve its infrastructure plans.”

The Australian Building and Construction Commission shook up the sector when it was launched in 2005 because of its hefty legal powers and pro-active approach to policing industrial laws in the sector.

It has support from much of the building sector, which argues it has resulted in increased productivity and a reduction in the number of days lost to industrial disputes.

But building industry unions have bitterly opposed the body on the basis that it is unnecessary and driven by an ideological anti-union agenda.

The Wilcox review into the future of IR regulation will consult with a wide range of industry players before delivering its report to the Government in March 2009.


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