If you work in the construction industry, you probably already know the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) and its reputation. Often described as the “union-hunting construction watchdog”, the ABCC is known as the Liberal Government’s tool to hound the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU) and its members. Well, this watchdog’s got a wolf out for its blood with the new Albanese government pledging to scrap the Commission to save previous dollars in their budget and improve outcomes for workers in the construction sector. For the construction industry, this means some changes may need to be made in the workplace.
What is the ABCC?
The ABCC is a statutory authority empowered by the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Act 2016 (Cth) (BCIIP Act) and the Code for the Tendering and Performance of Building Work 2016 (Cth). The ABCC’s main functions include:
- Educating, advising and assisting people in the construction industry
- Assisting in enquiries by construction workers and employers
- Presentations to building industry participants
- Site visits
- Education activities
- Impartial monitoring
- Assessing and addressing non-compliance
HOW & WHY IS THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT PROPOSING TO DITCH THE ABCC?
As the ABCC is a statutory authority it must be removed by legislation. The Labor Government plans to repeal the BCIIP Act and its subsequent Code and have already introduced legislation in the interim to ensure a smooth transition – the Code for the Tendering and Performance of Building Work Amendment Instrument 2022 (Cth). The Federal Government will find this difficult to pass due to the Liberal Party’s strong opposition to the removal of the ABCC – approval of this change will depend on crossbenchers in Parliament.
If the Albanese government fail to strip the ABCC’s powers by repealing its authorising legislation, they plan to defund it.
Although the ABCC was re-introduced in 2016 to improve productivity in the construction industry (as the name of the accompanying legislation suggests), it has consistently been unproductive – in 2017-18 construction sector labour productivity fell by 2.4%, in 2018-19 it was down 2.6% and in 2019-20, it decreased by 2.6%.
The safety of workers throughout ABCC’s regulation has also been questioned with more than 330 worker deaths during its first period of operation under the Howard government.
The Commission has gained a reputation for taking the CFMMEU and its members to court for trivial matters, with the CFMMEU actively campaigning against the ABCC. The ABCC has a 93% litigation success rate, winning 102 out of 109 court cases between the time they were re-instated to the date of this article’s publication.
The ABCC is taxpayer-funded and has a budget of around $35 million, with approximately $450,000 going to the Commissioner of the ABCC, Steve McBurney, annually. The Federal Government plans to re-allocate the funds to other causes.
Will the ABCC be replaced by another body?
Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke has confirmed the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) and health and safety regulators would attain responsibility for enforcing the Fair Work Act 2006 (Cth) (FW Act) and safety matters in the construction industry.
Why should I care?
If you’re an employer in construction, the dissolution of the ABCC directly affects you and your workers. If the proposed legislation is approved by Parliament, you might need to consider making some changes in your workplace. Some of the proposed changes affecting businesses covered by the Code include:
- Removing restrictions on enterprise agreements (EAs) (e.g. no requirement to confer with unions regarding the engagement of employees or submit EAs to the ABCC for approval)
- Allowing union logos on clothing and equipment owned by employers
- Removing employers’ requirement to have a Workplace Relations Management Plan (WRMP) established
- And many more!
Workplace Wizards are experts in delivering training and advice to ensure employers are in-the-know about changes in their industry and have up-to-scratch compliance processes in their workplace. Give us a call on (03) 9087 6949 or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your options with one of our brilliant consultants!