The Guardian August 8, 2001


Construction Union tells Commission:
"Let's look at everything"

by Peter Mac 

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) has agreed to 
co-operate with the proposed Royal Commission into the building industry. 
At the same time, however, the union has expressed its determination to 
ensure that the inquiry covers all aspects of the building industry, 
including tax evasion and the theft of employee entitlements by 
construction companies. 

The union has received the backing of the Australian Council of Trade 
Unions, including the promise of financial assistance to meet legal costs 
incurred during the inquiry. 

The National Secretary of the Construction Division of the CFMEU, John 
Sutton, has previously expressed grave misgivings about the scope of the 
inquiry, the wording of which could be seen as providing an opportunity for 
the Federal Government to conduct a witchhunt of militant unions and their 
leadership. Last week he also drew attention to the fact that the proposed 
secretary of the Commission, Mr Colin Thatcher. 

"... the CFMEU has concerns about the capacity of ... Colin Thatcher to act 
impartially, given Mr Thatcher's record of employment as Assistant Director 
of the Business Council of Australia, and as a senior bureaucrat in the 
Court and Borbridge Governments overseeing anti-union industrial laws", Mr 
Sutton pointed out. 

Predictably, the Minister for Industrial Relations, Tony Abbott, sprang to 
Thatcher's defence, stating that: ".... it's a shame people have cast 
aspersions on a career public servant ... (who) ... has worked for both 
Coalition and Labor governments." 

He did not, however, deny Thatcher's close links to leaders of business and 
conservative parties. 

The union has now issued details of matters that have plagued the industry 
for years and which it wants to include in the Commission's enquiry. They 
include security of payments to contractors, sub-contractors and workers; 
widespread use of "phoenix" companies; widespread use of illegal migrant 
labour; massive underpayment of statutory entitlements and workers' 
compensation payments; the appalling safety record of the industry; chronic 
skill shortages and serious unemployment among construction workers. 

The union has pointed to a national study two years ago which indicated 
that tax evasion in the construction industry had probably cost the 
government $2 billion. 

In response, the Minister for Industrial Relations, Tony Abbott, has backed 
away from his statement last week that the Federal Government would welcome 
investigation into any areas that the Commission deemed necessary. After 
the union's statement last week he declared hastily that that "...there are 
already all sorts of avenues for pursuing tax evasion."

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