It goes without saying that the building and construction industry is extremely important to the Australian economy and the wellbeing of this nation. The industry is the third largest contributor to GDP in this country, which places it ahead of manufacturing, and behind mining and financial and insurance services.
The industry employs well over one million people, making up 9% of Australia’s total employment.
Unfortunately, unlawful conduct on building sites greatly inhibits economic growth.
As Director, my vision is ambitious: ‘That all Australian building and construction workplaces are productive and harmonious.’
It is my job to keep the agency’s eye on the ball, and on the end goal: that there are productive and harmonious worksites for all. I emphasise the ‘all’ because in my mind, the ‘all’ includes unions, workers, employers and employer organisations.
My mission is: ‘To ensure that the Rule of Law prevails in the Australian building and construction industry.’ This mission means that the agency will investigate matters of alleged unlawful activity without fear or favour. And where the evidence exists, and it is in the public interest, FWBC will bring wrongdoers before the courts. This unequivocal stance is the platform to create a new culture within the industry.
In my experience, the industry requires a powerful regulatory framework, strong powers and a determination to apply those powers against any person, or organisation, that breaks the law. In addition, employees, subcontractors and head contractors require the support of a strong regulator to resist unlawful demands and behaviour.
It is fair to say, the agency I now head has had a range of plans and priorities in recent years. In particular, the agency went through an especially challenging time during this financial year, having had no less than four directors in a mere seven months.
I was the fourth. Since I started at the end of 2013, there has been a significant shift in FWBC’s plans and priorities. Part of this agency’s new emphasis is what I refer to as a return to ‘core business’. This has seen wages and entitlements work returned to the Fair Work Ombudsman. These investigations previously made up a large component of our work. In fact, more than 40% of investigations related to wages and entitlements when I took over.
The Fair Work Ombudsman has the specialist expertise to handle wages and entitlements matters relating to the building and construction industry. This transfer has provided my agency with the opportunity to regain its focus on the unlawful behaviour which affects the productivity of the industry such as coercion, unlawful industrial action, freedom of association and right of entry issues. Of the 977 alleged contraventions investigated during the financial year, 24% related to right of entry, 16% related to freedom of association and 15% related to coercion.
My agency has been incredibly busy investigating unlawful conduct. During the financial year, the organisation received 2,710 requests for assistance, mainly through our 1800 number, over 1,000 more than the previous year. The number of enquiries about coercion was more than double the previous year’s total.
The agency also increased the number of site visits from 1,366 in 2012-13 to 1,746 during 2013-14. We have 106 ongoing investigations as at 30 June 2014, compared with 78 as at 30 June 2013.
We also commenced twice as many legal proceedings this financial year compared to 2012-13.
THE YEAR AHEAD
Upon my arrival as Director in October 2013, I found some agency staff were jaded and understandably so. I am proud to report that there appears to be renewed energy and enthusiasm all around the organisation.
I am committed to improving staff engagement and providing fulfilling and meaningful work. This is something I will continue to nurture in the new financial year. Our staff are receiving refresher training to ensure each investigator feels well equipped to confront the challenging nature of their work.
As a result, the agency will continue to address our core business (coercion, unlawful industrial action, freedom of association and right of entry), as part of our vision to make Australian building and construction sites productive and harmonious. We will continue to work collaboratively with our colleagues at the Fair Work Ombudsman by referring wages and entitlements matters.
The year ahead may also see the restoration of the ABCC.
Regardless of whether the ABCC is re-established, the agency will continue in its mission to ensure that the rule of law prevails in the Australian building and construction industry.
Despite the highly charged nature of the work and the current state of the industry, I continue to receive great satisfaction in seeing the agency simply getting on with the job. My ambitious vision is to create a building and construction industry where all participants accept, without reservation, that the rule of law applies to them as it would if they were engaged in any other industry and people can actually go to work each day free from unlawful industrial action, free from coercion, and intimidation.
Fair Work Building & Construction