The Guardian May 23, 2001


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.

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