Building and construction workers will have fewer rights than other employees and will continue to be discriminated against if the recommendations of the Wilcox Inquiry are adopted, unions say.
The report by former judge Murray Wilcox is based on flawed anecdotal evidence and its recommendations for a new specialist division of the Fair Work Ombudsman with coercive powers to interrogate construction workers would, if adopted, be a breach of workers’ rights, says the ACTU.
ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence said the report recommends some improved safeguards for workers, but does not go far enough and key elements should be rejected by the Government.
Mr Lawrence said “Building and construction workers should not be treated any differently to the rest of the Australian workforce,” Mr Lawrence said.
“It is inappropriate for there to be a specialist unit set up to investigate and prosecute construction workers. After promising signs, Mr Wilcox has failed to bite the bullet and recommend the abolition of discriminatory laws for building workers.
“Special laws for construction workers are unnecessary and unfair. They are a hangover from the Howard Government’s attempt to give employers too much power and silence unions. They have wasted millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money by pursuing offences as trivial as flying a Eureka flag and should be fully abolished.
“The Howard Government’s Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) has been allowed to operate without any supervision or accountability and to trample over the rights of workers. If Mr Wilcox’s recommendations are all adopted by the Government, not enough will change.”
He said workers would continue to face the prospect of being hauled into interrogations and threatened with jail if they don’t co-operate or try to exercise their right to silence.
“It is abhorrent that building workers can be jailed or fined simply for observing their rights, including the right of silence during interrogations that are about how they do their job.
“Construction is one of Australia’s most dangerous industries with many building workers being injured or killed at work each year and yet specialist laws for the industry have failed to raise safety standards.
“Mr Wilcox admits the justification for a separate watchdog is if it helps improve productivity or industrial harmony, yet he has not been able to come up with hard evidence of either being achieved.
“In fact, the report confirms research conducted by Econtech for the ABCC was seriously flawed.
“Other research considered by the inquiry includes employer-commissioned surveys and two case studies submitted by employers. This self-serving ‘evidence’ is clearly inadequate and casts serious doubt on the validity of the report’s findings. Unsurprisingly, the construction companies that were surveyed support regulations to prevent construction workers from exercising their right to join and be active in a union.
“The Government should abandon the idea of a specialist unit for the building and construction industry and rely on IR laws that treat all workers equally, regardless of what industry they work in,” said Mr Lawrence.