Key developments during 2015–16
During the reporting period, FWBC continued to commit resources to identifying, investigating, and pursuing core business matters related to coercion, freedom of association, unlawful industrial action, and right of entry in the building and construction industry. The agency further consolidated the work undertaken in the previous reporting period, with a continued focus on the Building Code, particularly with regard to educating the industry on rights and responsibilities and proactively monitoring compliance.
There were a number of significant changes to the scope of the work undertaken. These changes included new drug and alcohol requirements for contractors and the transfer of the role of assessing enterprise agreements for compliance with the Building Code 2013 from the Department of Employment to FWBC.
In October 2015, the Minister for Employment introduced new drug and alcohol requirements into the Building Code 2013. The changes require all building contractors covered by the Building Code to ensure that their management of drugs and alcohol in the workplace is reflected in their workplace health, safety and rehabilitation management system. This approach aims to ensure that no person attending a site to perform building work does so under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. On projects with Commonwealth funding of a particular threshold, building contractors must also have a fitness-for-work policy that includes drug and alcohol testing. FWBC took a staged approach to implementing these changes with the industry, focusing initially on education, then on feedback and voluntary rectification, before proceeding to auditing contractors for compliance.
On 6 May 2016, the Minister for Employment rescinded the previous practice of deeming registered enterprise agreements compliant with the Building Code 2013 by the Department of Employment, and transferred this role to FWBC. This new role resulted in a large increase in workload for FWBC's Building Code Group, as the assessment of registered and draft agreements for compliance with the Building Code became a key priority for the agency.
The changes to FWBC's responsibilities, along with an increase in proactive engagement with the industry through site visits and presentations, saw an increase in the overall number of enquiries it received. There was an increase in the number of Building Code compliance activities undertaken on building and construction work sites across Australia, and there continued to be a high level of complexity in the matters investigated and pursued by the courts.
Legislation extending the sunset clause of the agency's compliance powers, which passed in the 2014–15 financial year, enabled FWBC to continue to conduct compulsory examinations during 2015–16. In the reporting period, FWBC's compulsory examination powers were exercised on 17 occasions, compared to 14 in the previous financial year. In both reporting periods the examination attendees were predominantly management personnel, as opposed to workers, union officials and government employees.
Of proceedings finalised in the financial year, FWBC was successful in 21 out of 22 (95%) of matters. Penalties awarded in FWBC-initiated cases exceeded $1.8 million in the financial year, marking the fifth reporting period in which penalties handed down in cases initiated by FWBC and its predecessor agencies exceeded $1 million. Of the penalties awarded, $1,732,725 (95%) were awarded against the CFMEU and its representatives.