Watchdogs v toothless tigers

Dean Ellis writes: Re. “Does construction need a watchdog with security agency powers?” (yesterday). My brief experience with the Howard-era incarnation of the ABCC was one of tragicomedy. Years after alleged events were said to have occurred workers would be sent letters “inviting” them to an interview with ABCC investigators (in most cases tired ex-NSW coppers) to “voluntarily” discuss the alleged events. The so called invitation contained a clear and unambiguous threat that if the worker didn’t attend voluntarily they would then be compelled to attend under pain of a possible jail sentence.

The alleged events under investigation would invariably have occurred some two or three years in the past. The worker would have moved on to say another possibly more senior supervisory position but in the same industry and didn’t want his/ her new employer to know the ABCC was pocking around. The worker would harbour very real concerns that if his/ her new employer got wind they were the subject of an ABCC interview their job may be on the line.

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At the interview the worker would typically be asked by the ABCC gumshoes: who called the said meeting?, how many workers attended?, who stood next to whom?, where their obvious target was standing and what role they played?, who moved and who seconded any motions?, who else (organisers/presidents/secretaries) from union X were present? etc.

The interview would end after some hour and half with no conclusion and investigators telling the worker their investigations were ongoing and they shouldn’t talk to anyone about what was discussed at the interview. So the worker would leave the interview with no sense of completion. The investigators could recall the worker at any time without notice. This was little more than psychological warfare that was in itself a form of terror.

The comedic elements of this drama included (but weren’t very funny) original newspaper cartoons which festooned the walls of the interview room depicting and satirising the portly shape of a well known union official who was the ultimate target of the ABCC at the time. I recall thinking: all very amusing and these rooms are quite plush, but who the hell’s paying for all this?

Peter Matters writes: In my experience over many, many years, Labor governments have been trying to cut a corner or two too many. Coalition governments on the other hand have never stopped trying by means mostly foul to damage working people’s foremost  interests with the crack brained idea that such steps improved their profits.

In fact, the only government, who in my memory achieved this aim for business and industry, was the Hawke Government who, in conjunction with an enlightened union leader managed to convince employers of the fact obvious to everybody but top management that to make industrial relations work, the only way is to treat management and work force as partners.

Many years ago, somebody asked the late Norm Gallagher why he stopped a concrete pour half way to completion , which act caused the builder the greatest possible damage. Normie replied: “Look, whose’d taught us.” To remind younger generations: Before Norm fought like hell to achieve it, workers on large buildings did not even have a dunny, let alone such amenities as a lunch room or a wash room, and far less any consideration for their safety.

David Rutter writes: Bernard Keane is lucky he has never had to manage a union dominated-construction site. The CFMEU are masters of disruption and their currently proposed pattern EBA (especially in QLD) includes even more avenues to “legally” affect worksites.  This can only be curbed through the proposed new Code that would become law under the proposed legislation. The announcement of the Code and the subsequent failure of the legislation to pass through the senate has created a vacuum of uncertainty that will prevail until either the legislation passes or the new code is abolished — a move that would allow the CFMEU to insist on EBA clauses that entrench their ability to “legally” disrupt worksites.  ABS data on stoppages is irrelevant. Also, where Bernard has referenced high level reports on construction costs and productivity he fails to appreciate the huge disparity between union-controlled and non-union-controlled construction projects.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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