Of elections, HIH and union busting
by Marcus Browning From its title you might get the impression that the Office of the Employment Advocate, which has launched an attack on construction unions on behalf of the Howard Government, is in some way a job-creating body, or at least job-enhancing or job-saving. In fact, it was created by the Government to increase the number of workplaces which operate under the Government's individual work contracts, Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs). This makes it, by definition, anti-union, and a job destroyer into the bargain. The Office was set up to help employers coerce their workers onto AWAs, to force unions out and to ring the death knell of collective bargaining. So, when the Employment Advocate, Jonathan Hamberger, hit the headlines a couple of weeks back with a report containing allegations of corrupt practices by unions in the building industry, he was implementing part of the Government's union-busting program. He has also created a convenient sideshow to try and shift some public attention away from the latest debacle involving government connivance to cover up corporate dirty work i.e. the collapse of HIH insurance. All this in the lead up to an election with "landslide defeat" for the Government written all over it. The main target of the attack, the Construction Division of the CFMEU, wasn't swallowing any of it, pointing out that it is desperation stakes for Workplace Relations Minister Tony Abbott. "The Employment Advocate has dragged every weird and wonderful allegation out of the bottom drawer to oblige the Minister who is still trying to cut his teeth on the Workplace Relations portfolio", said CFMEU National Secretary, John Maitland. The union says Abbott is relying on paper-thin allegations made to the Office of the Employment Advocate over the past five years, and that the whole thing, including the push for a Royal Commission, is a smokescreen to hide the Government's determination to protect the directors of HIH. Noted John Maitland, "Given the choice between a Royal Commission into the $8 billion corporate collapse of HIH, and a Royal Commission into allegations of rough dealings on some construction sites, this Government has decided to put the boots into workers and declare hands off their corporate mates." [The Government has, since John said this, been forced into agreeing to a Royal Commission into HIH — Ed.] Not surprisingly Hamberger, a one-time staff member of the former Workplace Relations Minister Peter Reith (who you will remember was shuffled to the Defence portfolio following the Telecard rorting affair) has not raised a single corruption allegation against building employers in his report. The union wants any corruption issues dealt with by non-political, non- partisan law enforcement authorities. As the ACTU points out, the real problems in the construction industry at present are the GST, the HIH collapse — which has put projects on hold because builders insured with the failed company cannot get their licences renewed — and the crucial need to lift health and safety standards.