Fair Work Act has unleashed mob rule and it's spreading
A clear failing of the Gillard government's fair work system is increased industrial action and union militancy.
Australian Bureau of Statistics data released yesterday shows an alarming jump in industrial action to an eight-year high. A staggering 101,700 working days were lost because of industrial action in the June quarter.
The system encourages unions to take strike action. Australian workplace culture is being transformed as we experience protracted bargaining attended by strikes and unruly blockades. A range of industries are affected in the latest figures, including mining, the public sector and construction.
It is fanciful for Bill Shorten to blame Coalition premiers. The system confers on union leaders an increasing arrogant confidence that they can beat employers into submission.
Melbourne is now accustomed to daily pictures of the union mob battling a contractor, its workers and police. The Grocon dispute is critical because it involves blatant unlawful conduct including the defiance of Supreme Court orders. A win for the mob would do untold damage to Australia's reputation for managing workplace relations.
Sadly, such workplace relations thuggery is not limited to Victoria.
The Queensland building industry is experiencing a similar standoff. Abigroup, a national contractor, is building the Brisbane Children's Hospital. It is a $900 million project due for completion in 2014.
The site has been shut down for more than four weeks because of a strike by workers. The unions involved are the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union and the Builders Labourers Federation. They are demanding Abigroup engage all subcontractors and their employees on the same rates as workers employed by Abigroup.
The company is being pressured to abandon its legally registered enterprise agreement in favour of a union pattern agreement. Protesters have assembled at the site to discourage workers entering. The taunts and abuse hurled at those who wanted to work were so vicious that entry was not attempted for weeks. Employees were photographed and told they would be remembered.
Orders by Fair Work Australia and the Federal Magistrates Court have failed to secure access to the site. A blockade remains in place that the union disavows having any involvement in organising. At the same time Abigroup was told that a phone call accepting the demands will have the matter fixed.
Restrictive clauses of the type claimed by the CFMEU have already been adopted by other national building companies operating in Queensland: Laing O'Rourke, Grocon, Theiss and Baulderstone. All endured protracted disputes of two weeks or more.
It is an established right for employers and workers to access their place of work. Industrial action affecting the workplace does not detract from that right. Workers have a lawful right to choose not to engage in industrial action.
Union militancy by building and construction unions is escalating across the country.
The militancy is the result of capitulation by the Gillard government. The strong regulator, the Office of the Australian Building and Construction Commissioner, has been abolished. Its replacement, the Fair Work Building and Construction Inspectorate, has superficial powers and adopts a cautious approach to securing lawful conduct on building sites. The government also diluted the application of the national code of practice across the industry.
The rise in protracted disputes is clearly a failure of the Gillard policy. If added to this is an inability to contain or punish unlawful conduct then the future is grim.
Some are indifferent to these disturbing trends on the grounds that they reflect the rugged culture of building and construction. Such indifference is misplaced. Queensland has a substantial construction program. Population growth, mining development and infrastructure upgrades mean that building and construction play a vital role.
The real reason for the industrial campaigns is to consolidate union influence over commercial construction. The emergence of an unchecked, militant culture inevitably will involve higher costs and delays in project completion.
More important, the lawful rights of employers and workers are threatened. Victoria and Queensland appear to be the current focus. If mob rule is allowed to prevail then the conduct will likely spread. Australian workers and industry will suffer.