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."