The Albanese Labor Government has taken another step towards ending the unfair treatment of building and construction workers.
The Government is amending the Code for the Tendering and Performance of Building Work – known as the Building Code – to ensure construction workers have the same rights as other workers.
Under this change, the Australian Building and Construction Commission’s (ABCC) powers will be pulled back to the bare legal minimum.
Some of its powers will go back to the Fair Work Ombudsman and to appropriate health and safety regulators. Its most ridiculous powers will be scrapped altogether.
The Government went to the election with a promise to abolish the ABCC and we intend to introduce legislation to achieve that by the end of 2022. Today’s announcement is a down payment on that commitment.
The ABCC is a politicised and discredited organisation established by the previous government to target workers purely for ideological reasons.
It was set up by the Liberals and Nationals to discredit and dismantle unions and undermine the pay, conditions and job security of ordinary Australian workers.
The ABCC’s record proves it has been more concerned with pursuing and punishing workers than tackling rampant wage theft and compromised safety standards.
Workers and their representatives shouldn’t be harassed by a body that wastes taxpayers’ money on trivial nonsense like what stickers a worker might have on their helmet or whether a union logo might appear in a safety sign.
The ABCC itself has been found to have acted unlawfully. Former ABCC head Nigel Hadgkiss was forced to resign after admitting to breaching the Fair Work Act. It has no credibility whatsoever.
It is more important than ever we give Australians access to a workplace system based on fairness, mutual trust and respect – not on conflict.
The ABCC is also a totally unnecessary body. Building workers should be subject to the same laws and regulations as all other workers.
But since the previous Liberal government introduced the Building Code, construction employers and workers on Government-funded building jobs have been subject to restrictions that don’t apply to people in other industries.
The amended Building Code removes these restrictions, including prohibited enterprise agreement content requirements that are not imposed on other workers under the Fair Work Act.
Building and construction workers will now be able to freely bargain for agreements in the same way as other workers – including agreements that include clauses promoting job security, jobs for apprentices, and safety at work.
The new Interim Building Code only includes elements necessary to meet the current legislative requirements and to retain existing exemptions. It cuts red tape by removing duplication of matters already covered by the Fair Work Act and other Commonwealth, state and territory laws.
The Fair Work Ombudsman will take on the role of enforcing the Fair Work Act in the building and construction industry, ensuring there won’t be a shortfall in workplace relations regulation within the industry. All litigation commenced by the Australian Building and Construction Commission will also be managed by the Fair Work Ombudsman.
Given the importance of improving the safety culture of the building and construction industry, the Government will retain the Federal Safety Commissioner (FSC). A review will be undertaken to evaluate the FSC’s effectiveness and the merits of adopting a similar approach in other areas of Government procurement.
The building industry itself must take the lead on identifying and tackling key challenges in the sector, particularly through tripartite consultation and cooperation processes.
The Interim Building Code takes effect on Tuesday, July 26.