28 September 2017

Senate Education and Employment Committee Inquiry

Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2017

Master Builders Australia, Opening Statement

Shaun Schmitke, National Director Safety, Contracts & Workplace Relations

We are very grateful for the opportunity to appear before the Committee today.

Master Builders Australia supports the Bill and we urge the Committee to find that it proceed to become law.

The detail underpinning this position is contained in our submission about which I would be pleased to take questions; however there some key points that I would like to emphasise for context.

This Bill will amend laws that apply to all registered organisations, including both unions and employer groups. New powers will be vested in tribunals and courts, ensuring the law is administered appropriately and independently. The provisions adopt legislative concepts that are familiar to both the independent umpires and legislative framework relevant to workplaces.

Laws of this type have existed for over a century and afford registered organisations certain rights recognised by courts and tribunals, and in workplaces. These rights are better considered as privileges, in return for which comes responsibility and reciprocal obligation, to both the underpinning framework, members of an organisation, and the community more broadly.

One of these obligations is compliance with the law. Nothing in this Bill should be of concern to those organisations that represent members in compliance with the law, which is the case for the overwhelming majority of such organisations.

Those who do break the law, jeopardise their privileges. This is an appropriate and additional consequence to ensure organisations do the right thing and fixes a deficiency with the current regime.

Regrettably, that deficiency is very apparent in the Building and Construction industry which is home to some organisations that are known to be recidivist and regard themselves as above the law.

Almost one third of the Heydon Royal Commission report centred on our sector and related evidence gave rise to the recommendations forming the genesis of this Bill.

Increasing the extent to which organisations in our sector are transparent and accountable to their members, the law and the community will be a further important and positive part of bringing about industry cultural change.

This is particularly important for an industry which is the second largest part of the economy, provides jobs for 1 in 10 workers, and will require an additional 120,000 extra workers over the next five years.

We also highlight the proposed public interest test for amalgamations.

The Committee will be aware that processes are underway to amalgamate registered organisations in our sector.

There is much that can be said about this move, but I simply report that the prospect of what some have described as a super-union is of significant concern to our members.

If approved, there will be consequences in terms of influence and conduct, with ramifications for the economy and investment, and the community.

It is therefore appropriate that changes of this type are subject to more thorough scrutiny than presently required, and that this be akin to the rules applying to companies and directors.

Whether it is a company or a registered organisation – it is appropriate to be accountable to the community, the law and those who pay the wages.

In short, what is important to understand is that in the longer term, the interest of employers, and the interest of the community, depend upon having a rational system of industrial relations within which there is, as there appropriately should be within a democracy, the opportunity for legitimate trade unions to put points of view, and for there to be rational interchanges between employers and organised workers.

This relationship obviously hinges on the parties to the relationship being able to rely on there being civilized behaviour within the industrial environment.

That policy outcome is exactly what Bill seeks to achieve and promote, and that is why it has Master Builders support.

Ends...

For further information:  Master Builders Australia's submission to the Senate Education and Employment Committee Inquiry into the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2017

Speech by the Prime Minister, the Hon Bob Hawke AC on the deregistration of the Builders Labourers Federation (BLF), Parliament of Australia, 1985