On Monday 11 May, Federal cross-bench senators voted to extend the lifespan of powers granted to industry watchdog Fair Work Building and Construction (FWBC) to compel construction workers and employees to speak with investigators, or face jail sentencing.
The powers, which have been instrumental to investigating claims of intimidation and unlawfulness in the construction industry, were scheduled to expire on 30 May. This is timely given that the introduction of a bill that proposes to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) has been delayed.
“The vote by the Senate to extend the compulsory powers of Fair Work Building and Construction (FWBC) is a win for the community and common sense,” Master Builders Australia CEO Wilhelm Harnisch said.
“Master Builders would like to thank the cross bench senators for their support of this common-sense measure. The need to protect witnesses and whistle-blowers from coercion and intimidation has been highlighted by the Royal Commission into union governance and corruption,” he said.
“The passage of this legislation will ensure FWBC can continue to do its job while consideration is given to restoring the powers of the Australian Building and Construction Commission.”
“The FWBC is already constrained by a number of provisions that hamper its work. The continuance of the current ability to compel witnesses to give evidence does not make up for those deficiencies. For example, the FWBC is unable to commence or continue litigation where the litigation on the same subject matter has been discontinued because the building industry parties settled their differences,” he said.
“This means that deals can be done that protects unions and others from the consequences of their unlawful action. Only the restoration of the ABCC and its powers will provide an adequate response to the urgent need to apply the rule of law to the benefit of the building and construction industry and the community,” Mr Harnisch said.