Originally published in Workforce Daily on 30 September 2016.

Stricter rules surrounding unlawful picketing and industrial action were among the provisions in the Australian Building Construction Commission (ABCC) Bill the Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA) applauded in its submission to the Senate Committee examining the legislation.

An “appropriate” reverse onus of proof for “some coercive and unlawful activities” was another feature AMMA supported in its submission to the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee. It “applied to those taking industrial action for alleged safety reasons, with the Bill requiring individuals to prove their safety concerns are genuine for such action not to be deemed unlawful”.

A stronger industry regulator would boost productivity on construction projects via reduced lost days to industrial action, improved rostering arrangements and “less misuse of safety issues for industrial purposes”, AMMA said. It again cited a Menzies Research Centre report that estimated since the ABCC was abolished in 2012 and replaced with the Fair Work Building Commission the number of days lost to industrial action increased 34% (WF 16/9/2016). A revived ABCC would have “extensive powers” to investigate and prosecute.

The Bill differs from similar 2013 legislation in retaining Commonwealth Ombudsman oversight of compulsory information-gathering powers, but removes the “onerous requirement” to gain Administrative Appeals Tribunal approval before issuing a notice to attend.

Broader anti-coercion powers better prevent unlawful action

Broader anti-coercion powers would give the industry regulator the necessary firepower to seek a court injunction to prevent unlawful action. This would address inadequacies in the Fair Work Act’s anti-coercion provisions, AMMA said. Other provisions greeted enthusiastically included those that held union officials “vicariously liable” for members engaging in unlawful conduct and extended coverage to offshore construction, which AMMA said had strong industry support.

A broader definition of industrial relations, such as the one in the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill (BCII) 2013, would avert the risk of some union and official conduct “not being captured in the proposed legislation”.

“The overall effect of the current laws regulating workplace relations in the building and construction industry has been to water down the inspectorate’s capacity to ensure that industry participants conduct their activities in accordance with the law,” the submission said. “Law-abiding union officials, employers and workers have nothing to fear from strong laws that protect against intimidation, coercion and thuggery on building and construction sites.”

AMMA said the current inquiry appeared “unnecessary” given it did not differ from three others held in 2012, 2013 and 2014 to examine similar legislation.

AMMA not a registered organisation but welcomes stronger governance

AMMA supported the Fair Work Amendment (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill for better aligning employer group and union governance requirements. The association itself was incorporated as a company and would be unaffected by any changes, the submission said.

“High profile cases of union misappropriation and fraud, and further allegations against individuals that remain before the courts are indicative of an outdated and sub-optimal system of governance and accountability in this area,” it said. While it would be preferable for unions and employer organisations to be responsible to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, a proposed independent Registered Organisations Commission would “harness greater expertise and independence than currently exists within the Fair Work Commission”, AMMA said.