The Office of the Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate (operating as Fair Work Building & Construction (FWBC)) commenced operation on 1 June 2012. As such, this Annual Report testifies only to the agency’s first month of operation.

FWBC was created by the Fair Work (Building Industry) Act 2012, but also works within a broader regulatory framework, including the Fair Work Act 2009 (FW Act) and a continuing role monitoring and ensuring compliance with the National Code of Practice for the Construction Industry.

While FWBC is a new agency, its functions, powers and objectives are similar to predecessor agencies which regulated compliance with workplace laws in the building and construction industry. FWBC will build on past successes and continue to refine its regulatory and educative approach in response to the harms that it seeks to prevent and, when they occur, to treat.

In its first month, FWBC saw a successful transition of some 150 staff from the former agency, the adoption of a new brand, and an energetic effort by all staff to connect with industry participants on new terms.

OUR STRATEGY

As the industry seeks to improve enterprise-level outcomes, and policy-makers to build our national prosperity, FWBC’s vision is for a building and construction industry that maximises its potential by being both fair and productive.

The agency’s work is guided by a straightforward strategic agenda, set out in the Statement of Strategic Intent that you will find summarised in this Annual Report and available in full on our website.

Our compliance regime, our educative work, our targeted campaigns and our capacity development all link back to our strategic vision. The work-plan of every employee in the agency is linked to that vision.

FWBC’s enabling legislation creates an agency that is not only a regulator, but one that also has a broader remit – to provide advice, assistance and education services ’ in a way that must and will evolve with the industry over time.

End-users of our services will notice our functions expand, but will continue to see us investigating, litigating and enforcing the rule of law.

OUR APPROACH

The building and construction industry is, by nature and long tradition, collaborative. It takes sophisticated co-operation to build a road, a skyscraper or a mine. FWBC will join forces with industry to make sure the same high-level collaboration that happens on the job also happens with respect to workplace laws and workplace culture.

FWBC is focussed on integrating the way we deliver services. We are working with other agencies, industry and key stakeholders to ensure that we make the strongest contribution to getting workplace relations settings right.

Our approach is hands-on. We are visible on work sites and we listen hard to the industry at all levels – from the tools through to key industry events.

We will regulate from the front – in a proactive, pre-emptive way, rather than waiting for contraventions to occur before we act. We seek to be agents of positive impact in our industry, not just to prosecute malfeasance after the event.

OUR WORK PROGRAM

FWBC investigates across the full range of civil penalty breaches in the FW Act. Over the coming year, our regulatory focus will be on six key areas:

  • unprotected industrial action
  • freedom of association
  • coercion
  • right of entry
  • wage and entitlements
  • sham contracting

We approach each of these harms with a range of tools from along the whole regulatory spectrum, from voluntary resolution through to enforcement strategies including civil penalty action. We retain from the former regulator the power to intervene in court matters brought by other industry participants, and we exercise that power when we judge that it is in taxpayers’ interests to do so.

Employers can also expect that FWBC will focus on breaches that were not a strong feature of the former regulator’s approach, including breaches of modern awards, discrimination, adverse action and failure to comply with notices or record-keeping obligations.

As well as pursuing our regulatory interventions in the industry, I am committed to finding ways to build the industry’s capacity to – and willingness to – fashion its own solutions. Where elements of the industry evince a commitment to better dispute management, FWBC will provide advice and guidance.

At the same time, it should be absolutely clear to all industry participants that FWBC will be a vigourous and effective litigant in the public interest. This commitment to ensure that the rule of law is upheld is undiminished, despite the confused rhetoric of those sceptical about the successful transition to FWBC.

Above all, we seek to be visible. A regulator that only springs into action at certain flashpoints cannot hope to create lasting change. Increasing information channels to and building partnerships with our industry is critical to our success, and we will continue to pursue meaningful, respectful engagement with all parts of the building and construction sector.

NEW WAYS TO CREATE VALUE

There is currently a thriving – though not always accurate – national conversation about productivity and about the workplace relations settings appropriate to ensuring and enhancing it. FWBC intends to contribute to that conversation in a way that is agnostic of politics and focused instead only on well-supported evidence.

There is a large and growing body of scholarship suggesting that employee engagement is a key driver of enterprise-level productivity, as well as a reliable predictor of shareholder value and return on equity.

It makes business sense to treat employees fairly, and it makes sense for individual employees to take an active role in increasing their productivity in their workplace.

FWBC’s object to encourage harmonious practices obliges us to support industry participants in finding common ground with employers, employees and their representatives in workplace issues, as well as to undertake the hard compliance for which the former regulator was well known.

It is through taking this ‘long-view’ approach to compliance that FWBC will contribute to industry in a lasting way, beyond the band-aid approach of a regulator focused entirely on the ‘now’.

Our industry can be a leader for the new productivity frontier. I consider it FWBC’s priority to both address the productivity challenge in construction, and by doing so, create markers for other industries about how they can best bring the pieces of the puzzle together. The construction industry can provide positive examples, and positive direction.

If we address inefficiencies in construction, other industries – in particular those industries that need infrastructure to be productive, like mining, transport and the services sector – are enabled to follow suit.

FWBC does not just expect industry participants to be cooperative, harmonious and productive. But through patient, diligent and ethical work, I am confident that we can make a lasting difference in this industry, for the benefit of all Australians.

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Leigh Johns

Chief Executive
Fair Work Building & Construction