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Below is my letter published in today’s Australian attacking the CFMEU’s remarkable claim that it is being discriminated against by the Abbott Government’s move to restore the powers of the Building and Construction Commission (see article from yesterday’s Australian by CFMEU Secretary Noonan). Others, including the CEO of Master Builders Australia,Wilhelm Harnisch, have written in the same vein.

In fact it appears that the government has today gone quite a bit further than simply restoring ABCC powers and is legislating to, in particular, cover the picketing of building sites and suppliers to building sites. In addition, legislation has been introduced to establish a new organization covering the registration and supervision of union behavior separately from the Fair Work Commission. This is obviously aimed at avoiding Health Services Union type scandals, currently involving inter alia the activities of former HSU secretary Williamson which are still being examined by police.  It may be recalled that the HR Nicholls Society’s annual conference two years ago heard from HSU’s Kathy Jackson about the internal conflicts centred around  attempts to control HSU finances.

The pity is that the opportunity is being missed for a similar much wider revision of the regulations under the Fair Work legislation and administration.   The HR Nicholls Society’s next conference on 5 December will hear of the difficulties experienced by “other” businesses (ie non- builders) in handling those regulations from Qantas Chairman Leigh Clifford (those wishing to attend at Morgans 401 Collins St should contact Secretary Michael Moore at ). Why not extend the coverage of the reforms to these “other” businesses?

With Labor and the Greens deciding to refer this legislation for a Senate Inquiry, and the likelihood that the Carbon Tax repeal legislation will receive the same Senate treatment, the Abbott Government will soon have  accumulated potential for a double dissolution.

It should be noted that the economic case for wider reform has increased markedly with the continued slow-down in employment growth and, now, wages growth. I have previously referred to the continued decrease since 2010 in the proportion of  those 15 years and over who are employed: this increase of over 200,000 in the unofficial “unemployed” adds to the increase of about 100,000 in the official unemployed. Yesterday the ABS also published (for the fifth consecutive quarter) a marked slowing in wage growth: year on year annual growth in the September quarter fell to 2.6% compared with the 3.7% growth in the September quarter in 2012. From the perspective of costs such a decline is welcome and needed (particularly in regard to international competition) but it confirms the difficulties being experienced in obtaining jobs under the inflexible regulatory arrangements. This situation provides a golden opportunity (and an urgent need) to justify legislative reform that gets away from a system which hands out wage awards by bureaucrats whose limited knowledge of market conditions, and usage of social criteria to set awards, will likely further reduce growth in employment. Indeed, the inflexibility in our highly regulated system could, in existing difficult economic circumstances, soon lead to a situation in which employment actually starts to fall. In short, the current market is working to the extent that it is allowing wages to drift down as demand for labour slows - but it is prevented from working properly to catch up with the slowing in demand because of the award system.

Des Moore

Fair go for workers
(Letter published in The Australian, 14 November 2013.)

Wouldn’t it be terrible, Dave Noonan, if the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union had to face competition from those willing to work for wages and entitlements which may be less than those obtained by the union through threats and thuggery (“Discrimination not acceptable”, 12/11).

Sure, governments failed to respond to the revelations of the Cole Royal Commission and, by kow-towing to unions in reducing the powers of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, have allowed discrimination to continue.

But this discrimination has been against those many ordinary workers who are not members of the union. It should not be allowed to continue: they should be given a fair go.

Des Moore,
South Yarra, Vic

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