Originally published in Workforce Daily on November 22, 2016.

The passage last night of the one of the Federal Government’s key industrial relations Bills has heightened employer optimism about the much-awaited legislation to revive the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) before the senate.

The Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Bill 2014 passed the senate 33 to 30 votes just after 2am after the govt secured the support of every crossbencher except for Senator Jacqui Lambie.

The legislation will subject unions to similar regulation that applies to corporations and move union oversight from the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to a newly established Registered Organisations (RO) Commission.

Senators Nick Xenophon and Derryn Hinch demanded greater protections and compensation for union whistleblowers in the public and private sectors in return for their support.

The govt gave an undertaking to introduce whistleblower protection legislation by December 2017 and ensure it was dealt with no later than June 30, 2018. It agreed to support a parliamentary inquiry into the issue and hand down a report in June 2017.

Govt rejects Labor bid to hand role to ASIC

Labor opposed the reforms and criticised the govt for rejecting its proposal that the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) assume the regulatory oversight role instead of an RO commission.

Shadow employment minister Brendan O’Connor told ABC Radio today”we thought ASIC could have been the regulator that was purpose built to regulate unions the same way companies are regulated by it”.

“We had other amendments that we thought would have brought transparency for example to electoral donations of unions and federal MPs,” he said. “But of course the govt stymied that by reaching accommodation with some of the crossbenchers.”

Employment minister Senator Michaelia Cash denounced Labor for “defending union rorters” instead of protecting union members.

“Sadly, Labor has opposed this legislation every step of the way for the last three years, despite the undeniable evidence that the laws governing registered organisations were desperately in need of reform,” she said in a statement.

“There are 47 unions and 63 employer groups in Australia with annual revenue of $1.5 billion and assets worth $2.5 billion.

“It will mean stronger laws to prevent honest members being ripped off to prevent a recurrence of the numerous scandals that have beset various registered organisations in recent years, such as the HSU (Health Services Union), the AWU (Australian Workers’ Union) and NUW (National Workers’ Union).”

ACTU claims Bill will discourage delegate volunteers

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) lamented the govt burdening unions with a “disproportionate and manifestly inappropriate regulatory regime”.

ACTU secretary Dave Oliver said in a statement, union volunteers will be subjected to the “same penalties that apply to highly-paid corporate boards”.

“The RO Bill is nothing more than an attempt by this govt to hobble the union movement with red tape and discourage people from volunteering as delegates and representatives to help their colleagues,” he said.

Employers enthusiastic about IR reform

Australian Industry Group CEO Innes Willox said the Heydon Royal Commission findings into union misconduct necessitated the need for RO law reform.

The focus was now on the ABBC Bill’s passage to stamp out “unlawful and inappropriate conduct being constantly and widely displayed by construction unions will continue unabated”, he said.

Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA) CEO Steve Knott welcomed the “long, overdue step towards improving the governance, transparency and management of trade unions and registered employer organisations”.

However, AMMA was now “looking to the Australian Parliament to address the far more substantive issue of lawlessness and corruption in the construction sector – an issue which impacts taxpayers, communities and small, medium and large businesses”.

“It’s well beyond time that the Australian Parliament draws a line under the abhorrent behaviours we are seeing coming out of the construction sector, and supports the restoration of the ABCC,” Knott said.

The Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) “warmly welcomed” the transfer of regulatory oversight from the FWC to an RO commission.

IPA research director Brett Hogan said: “Transferring responsibility for the regulation of unions and employer organisations from the FWC to a new, independent RO commission will also help to improve standards of behaviour.”