Union watchdogs return

Unions attack the return of two construction commissioners from the old guard, while industry groups praise the return. Why the controversy, and where do you stand?

Howard-era construction commissioners, Nigel Hadgkiss and John Lloyd, have both been appointed to the Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate (FWBII) by employment minister Eric Abetz, with the Coalition looking to reform the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), The Age reported.

Hadgkiss has been named director of the FWBII, and Lloyd has been placed on the advisory council. Both were commissioners of the ABCC during the Howard government, and both were key figures of the WorkChoices regime.

Abetz criticised the ALP’s replacement of the ABCC with the FWBII, due to its weaker powers. “We must get the balance right, which is why it’s important we return to the ABCC,” he said.

While The Greens have vowed to block the reintroduction of the Commission, unions regard the move as evidence that the Abbott government can’t be trusted on workplace relations.

"There has been a very long history of very anti-union statements from both Mr Lloyd and Mr Hadgkiss," Dave Noonan of The Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, told AAP. "These guys are extremists in their views and it underpins the fact that the government can't be trusted on industrial relations."

Ged Kearney, president of the ACTU, added that under the Howard government the ABCC showed no desire to investigate the actions of employers in the construction industry. ”It was simply an attack on unions and workers," he said.

However, employer groups disagree. The Master Builders Association (MBA) referred to Hadgkiss as the right person to combat ‘toxic’ industrial practices at Australian work sites.

Whilhelm Harnisch, chief of the MBA, said the government should restore the ABCC as a separate agency with strong powers to suppress “industrial bastardry”.

Steve Knott of the Australian Mines and Metals Association echoed these comments, stating that a strong industry watchdog was necessary to combat unlawfulness at both onshore and offshore construction sites.


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