Let’s reform the construction industry
Director Industrial Relations and In-house counsel
Master Builders ACT
Does the construction industry need a watchdog?
Ask the small business owner who testified before the trade union Royal Commission. A CFMEU union official told him to sign the union’s pattern enterprise agreement as “this is the way the industry is going… we will take control of the jobs. We will … tell… you which ones you can and can’t go on”.
The official offered “other ways” to come to an “arrangement”, including “donations” or payment for memberships. When the employer said he couldn’t afford these demands, the official said he “didn’t give a f*$k about small businesses” and within days ordered a builder to black-ban the company and engage a union-endorsed rival.
Welcome to coercion, construction industry-style.
In a survey of 450 construction firms Australia-wide, 60 per cent reported threats to their ability to win work if they didn’t meet union demands.
Threats against livelihoods aren’t limited to employers. Commission phone taps revealed a CFMEU official telling an employer to “move” an employee “off the job” because he didn’t join the union.
No other industry endures this brutality. Nor should it.
The Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) would not remove employees’ right to strike or collectively bargain, nor the CFMEU’s right to recruit and organise members. Instead, it would prosecute unlawful threats to livelihoods, restoring employers’ and employees’ right to work, without paying rents to the CFMEU. This would disrupt broader criminal and anti-competitive patterns, like the union-employer cartels now being investigated by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
The ABCC would oversee a new procurement code, strengthening builders’ obligations to refuse to participate in black bans on contractors – or miss out on government work. Other reforms would make it easier to prosecute cartel behaviour.
The central objection to the ABCC is its compulsory evidence gathering powers. Yet similar powers are held by ACCC, the tax office and other agencies, breaking cultures of silence where witnesses fear reprisals.
Reforming our industry wouldn’t just help construction companies and workers. It would boost economic growth – something constrained when normal rules don’t apply. Let’s bring back the watchdog to help us change that.