Construction industry ‘regulator’ just a publicly funded protection racket for big business

By Simon Stokes

3 YEAR PROSECUTION FOR HAVING A CUP OF TEA

In 2014, two CFMEU Officials went to a building site and had a cup of tea with a friend who was a Safety Officer there. They chatted about upcoming holidays and going 4-wheel driving.

They in no way hampered or obstructed any person or any of the operations of the workplace. They didn’t steal, cheat, threaten, bully, intimidate or engage in any other activity that a reasonable person might think was inappropriate in any way.

The ABCC spent three years and hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayers money trying to prosecute them for allegedly breaching the Fair Work Act by not having put in a right of entry notice before entering site to have a cup of tea with a friend.

Three years.

In the end, federal court judge Justice North tore them a new one over what he described as a ‘terrible waste of everybody’s time’.

“I’m looking at the central reality of this case. It was an hour on site. There was no aggravation, no stoppage of work, between people who got on well. I mean, really and truly, if this is what the Inspectorate thinks is worthy of its attention I would be amazed.” Justice North said.

“For goodness sake, I don’t know what this inspectorate is doing. When they use public resources to bring the bar down to this level, it really calls into question the exercise of the discretion to proceed.”

In saying this, Justice North explicitly points to the failure of the ABCC to be responsible, fair, and accountable in its decisions about who and how to prosecute.

THREATS OF $42,000 PERSONAL FINES FOR WORKERS WHO DEMANDED BASIC RESPECT

Over the Easter long weekend in 2019, ABCC Officials came to the doors of 44 West Australian workers and handed them complex legal documents threatening every single worker and their families with a $42,000 fine, each, for allegedly taking ‘unlawful industrial action’.

The workers had been employed on the WA State Government’s AirportLink project being built by Salini. They had signed contracts that implied they would receive redundancy payments when the contracts expired. They were then told that they would not receive redundancy.

They repeatedly asked for clarification from various levels of management but were repeatedly given conflicting or vague answers. So they went to the headquarters of their employer in their lunchtime to vocally but peacefully demanded an answer.

CFMEU State Secretary, Mick Buchan, blew the whistle on the ABCC in public comments that went largely unreported at the time.

“That action – standing up for their rights and entitlements as Australian workers and expecting to be treated with respect – is the ‘unlawful industrial action’ that the ABCC accused those workers of”, Mr Buchan said.

“But the ABCC pursued those West Australian workers relentlessly in an act of regulatory thuggery that I’ve never seen before in all my time as a Unionist.”

“It was absolutely clear to me that the intent of those prosecutions was to bully, harass, and punish those workers for standing up for themselves.”

NOT A SINGLE PROSECUTION OF THE HUNDREDS OF LABOUR HIRE FIRMS BREAKING THE LAW

Yesterday it was revealed that an investigation by the ABCC into the Labour Hire industry had identified that 80% of Labour Hire companies are engaging in wage theft or are operating outside the laws that are supposed to protect workers’ rights, wages and conditions.

80%.

But not one single charge has been laid or prosecution announced. Instead they expressed their ‘disappointment’ and ‘encouraged’ the industry to do better.

CFMEU Construction Division National Secretary, Dave Noonan, was scathing of the ‘relentless bias’ of the ABCC.

“If this was a Union the ABCC would be going after them with all their powers, but when they uncover multiple employers engaging in widespread illegal behaviour they express their ‘disappointment’. It’s absurd.”

“Not only is the ABCC covering up labour wage thieves. They also apparently failed to detect any tax evasion, visa fraud or sham contracting amongst these companies in a sector everyone knows is rife with those crimes.”

CFMEU WA State Secretary, Mick Buchan was equally appalled.

“This is a group of people put together by our own Government to try and use legal and economic thuggery to beat Australian workers into submission on behalf of private employers. Their purpose is to criminalise and prosecute resistance to worker exploitation.”

“They prosecute workers for the most ridiculous and insignificant issues, and consistently refuse to prosecute employers who are openly stealing people’s wages. And the worst bit is, they use our own money to do it. They’re funded by the taxpayer.”

“This is not a public regulator. It’s a publicly funded protection racket for private companies. It’s a septic and grotesque abuse of power and a corruption of our democracy.”

“Everyone is looking to the US right now and the abuses of power going on there. We have exactly the same kind of abuse of public institutions for private or political gain going on right here.”

“The Morrison Government is using taxpayer’s money to protect big private businesses from the consequences of breaking Australian law.”

CFMEU Construction Division National Secretary, Dave Noonan, went further in recent testimony to the Federal Senate and has called for the abolition of a corrupt and corrupting institution.

“The ABCC is required by legislation to act as an independent regulator of both unions and businesses in the construction industry, but it has shown itself to be fundamentally biased, deeply politicised and more interested in pursuing the government’s agenda than dealing with the real problems in the industry.”

“The ABCC’s record of prosecution reveals the extent of their disregard for the interests of working people and the protection racket they are running for construction industry bosses.”

“Since 2016 the ABCC has successfully prosecuted just 14 employers. In that time the CFMEU has been prosecuted 86 times, while 200 individual workers have been prosecuted by the regulator.”

“The ABCC has spent more than $3 million on legal action pursuing the union over the most minor of civil breaches, almost 20 times more than it has spent on token efforts to prosecute the widespread illegal and unconscionable behaviour of dodgy construction companies.”

“Not a single employer has been prosecuted over the sham contracting that is rampant in the industry.”

“The ABCC is a partisan politicised regulator designed and directed to attack workers and their unions. It is fundamentally incapable of stopping builders from ripping off workers and undermining conditions and it ignores the safety and wellbeing of the men and women whose labour builds this country and drives our economy.”

“It is worse than useless. It is actively harmful to the interests of workers in our industry and undermines principles of equality and justice before the law.”

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