||Issue No. 196||19 September 2003|
A Secret Country
Interview: Crowded Lives
Activists: Life With Brian
Industrial: National Focus
Unions: If These Walls Could Talk
Economics: Beating the Bastards
Media: Three Corners
History: The Brisbane Line
Trade: The Dumping Problem
Review: Frankie's Way
The Locker Room
Cole Skeletons Shake Monk
The Workplace Relations Minister has used the "sealed" 23rd volume to accuse building industry unions of thuggery and standover tactics but the Australian Financial Review, which has seen the material, suggests the hush-hush volume merely reiterates already-published claims.
Abbott has rejected calls from both the Federal Opposition and the CFMEU to make public confidential findings being used to justify his new workplace laws.
If Abbott's Bill is passed into law, building workers would be prevented from pattern bargaining; severely restricted in their right to use industrial action; and subjected to $110,000 fines for breaching these restrictions.
It also provides for individual unionists, found to be in breach Coalition industrial laws, to be barred from attending sites where their members are employed.
The legislation would be enforced by a specially-created Australian Building and Construction Commission with support from a division of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and other enforcement agencies.
The Building and Construction Commission would have the power to coerce witnesses into giving evidence. Its inspectors, supported by lawyers, financial analysts and "industry experts" would be sent onto building sites to provide taxpayer-funded advice to contractors in conflict with their employees.
The new legislation would push public funding of Abbott's crusade against building workers to well over $100 million.
Last week's AFR revelations breathed new life into claims that Abbott's $60 million Cole Royal Commission was a politically-motivated stitch-up.
The business newspaper quotes Cole as saying findings in his 23rd volume "might" constitute breaches of civil or criminal law, and suggesting that Abbott's terms of reference had required a speculative approach to fact.
"If I did not make any findings in relation to such matters, then the number of findings that would have been open to the commission would have been very small," Cole says.
"That would not have been satisfactory, because it would have unduly limited the evidential material to which I could make references in explaining the need for reforms that I have recommended."
This approach led Cole to make more than 400 findings, the vast majority against unions and their members. By contrast, the Royal Commission into Australia's largest corporate collapse, running at the same time, came up with 61 findings.
A key element underpinning Cole's recommendations is a call for "good faith bargaining", something the Minister has specifically rejected in relation to other industries.
Union officials also queried provisions in the Abbott bill that would force striking building workers back to their jobs after a fortnight, pointing out the Minister's public support for the rights of employers at Morris McMahon (NSW) and Geelong Wool Combing (Victoria) to lock workers out for months on end.
CFMEU officials reiterated claims that the Cole Commission and resulting legislation was a rorter's charter, giving a free pass to contractors who rip-off workers and the public on safety, wages, entitlements, taxes and compensation premiums.
"This legislation is really designed to protect dodgy contractors," CFMEU national secretary, John Sutton, said.
"To outlaw workers' right to insist on basic safety and respect for tax laws is a total perversion of the rule of law."
Democrat and independent senators are central to Abbott's ambition of having the bill passed into law by Christmas. The ALP and the Greens have already committed themselves to opposing the changes.
ALP Workplace Relations Shadow, Craig Emmerson, said the Abbott Bill was a recipe for workplace deaths.
"The draft legislation would weaken the capacity of unions to enforce occupational health and safety for construction workers," Emmerson said.
"Minister Abbott must be the only Australian who prefers the Athens model to the spectacular success of the Sydney Olympics that made all other Australians proud and showcased our construction industry to the world.
"Under current laws the Sydney facilities were built by construction unions on time, within budget and with one fatality. By contrast, 20 construction workers have already lost their lives in the construction of Athens Olympic facilities under the (non-union) model favoured in the draft legislation."
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