Wilcox says tough powers still needed

Justice Murray Wilcox’s report called for some minor procedural safeguards to be added to the investigative powers now available to Australian Building and Construction Commissioner John Lloyd.Unions have attacked the report, saying construction workers are treated differently to those in other industries, but Wilcox argued the stronger powers were still necessary.“The ABCC has made a significant contribution to improved conduct and harmony in the building and construction industry, but there is still some way to go,” he said in the report.Labor policy is that the ABCC will be disbanded early next year and replaced by a division of new industry regulator Fair Work Australia.Wilcox recommended the ABCC be replaced by a new Building and Construction Division attached to the new Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman and not directly controlled by FWA.“[FWA] will not have an investigative function; accordingly, it would be inappropriate for the specialist division to be part of FWA,” he said.In the report, Wilcox said that while he sympathised with union arguments that compulsory interrogation powers victimised building workers, removing the powers would be irresponsible.“I am satisfied there is still such a level of industrial unlawfulness in the building and construction industry, especially in Victoria and Western Australia, that it would be inadvisable not to empower the BCD to undertake compulsory interrogation,” he said. “The reality is that, without such a power, some types of contravention would be almost impossible to prove.”Meanwhile, the ABCC’s John Lloyd today said he remained concerned about increasing lawlessness in the Victorian building and construction industry.“In recent months a number of projects in Victoria have experienced a marked increase incoercion, intimidation, threats and violence,” Lloyd said. Lloyd singled out the “deplorable conduct” by some workers at John Holland’s Westgate Bridge Strengthening project, which had spread to other construction sites and John Holland’s Melbourne head office. He said the conduct included extreme verbal abuse, property damage, and threats of violence. “The ABCC is working with law enforcement agencies to ensure that work can proceed without threats and intimidation against workers,” he said.“There is no excuse for this type of behaviour. I call on all persons and organisations to obey the orders and injunctions of the Federal Court and cease this kind of conduct.”

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