In a 14 August speech, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chairman Rod Sims revealed that the ACCC is investigating more union-related matters than ever before, including two instances of alleged cartel conduct in the ACT construction industry – while also examining a “wide range of restrictive behaviour beyond the specific allegations of price fixing” in the industrial relations arena.
Sims said the ACCC had “many related issues on its plate” in addition to proceedings instituted last year against the CFMEU over its alleged secondary boycotts against Boral.
It has alleged 12 cases of breaches of the secondary boycott provisions, one case of an attempted breach of section 45E of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (CCA), and one instance of a breach of section 50 of the Australian Consumer Law (undue harassment or coercion).
In response to allegations raised in the Heydon Royal Commission in Canberra, the ACCC is investigating two instances of “potential cartel behaviour” in the ACT construction sector.
Sims said the allegations appeared to also involve a wide range of restrictive behaviour beyond the specific allegations of price fixing:
“It is possible that in the past the ACCC has not looked sufficiently into such additional restrictive behaviour that could amount to a contract, agreement or understanding that has the purpose or effect of substantially lessening competition, thinking such matters were covered by the carve outs and exemptions discussed above,”
Sims said this type of alleged conduct could disrupt competitive markets, increase costs and impede productivity.
“In these circumstances we need to ensure that our competition law applies to such restrictive behaviour as it does to every other sector of the economy.”
Sims said the ACCC would make a submission to the Royal Commission outlining “some difficulties” with the current laws, including the complexity of the current secondary boycott provisions and the inadequacy of the current penalty regime.
Master Builders is encouraged by the growing awareness of the anti-competitive behaviour engaged in by unions such as CFMEU, and strongly supports efforts of regulators such as the ACCC to enforce the rule of law in the construction industry.