BLF - INTIMIDATION
The ALP (aka the Anti-labour
Party) agrees with the Coalition that the construction industry still
needs its very own Stasi to stamp out intimidation on building sites.
such intimidation takes three forms: one, employers bully workers into
violating safety regulations and into working for less than the award;
two, workers pressure employers to stop breaking the law; three,
employers intimidate each other through price-fixing and collusive
The unions claim that
what their enemies call intimidation is no more than an effort to
enforce laws about safety and to stop contractors shooting through
without paying their workers. Indeed, the officials argue, if the Stasi
prevented those crimes, then the union intimidation would disappear.
If history is any
guide, the chance of achieving those outcomes is zero. The employers
fought safety regulations every step of the way. For instance, builders
and contractors in South Australia initiated their trade association to
oppose an Employer’s Liability Bill in 1884. Their Victorian
counterparts blocked laws to appoint State inspectors of scaffolding
into the 1930s.
Labourers who refused
to work on scaffolds that violated the regulations got the sack until
activism on sites improved matters. Today, refusing to start until
conditions comply with the law risks a criminal charge.
The construction unions
embarrassed Commissioner Cole into excusing his neglect of safety
violations. He claimed that that aspect had been widely investigated
elsewhere. On that basis, intimidation by unions needed no inquiry at
all, given the run of Royal Commissions into their behaviour across the
previous 30 years.
On top of the perennial
intimidation by dismissal for sticking up for one’s right not to be
manslaughtered, the Stasi are now there to intimidate workers who
cooperate to avoid putting their lives and limbs at risk.
In the past, the
employers did a larger share of their own intimidation. Just before
Christmas 1972, a Sydney contractor wrote the following to the NSW BLF
Secretary, Jack Mundey:
18 June 2007
Employers in the
construction industry have always heavied each other through
price-fixing and collusive tendering, as Adam Smith said they must.
Contractors who offered
to settle industrial disputes in defiance of the Employers’ Federation
had their supplies cut off.
The pressure to toe the
line extends beyond the building sector itself. In May 1971, the NSW
unions struck for improved accident pay. An insurance firm withdrew its
offer of coverage under advice from its industry peak body.
The history of the
building industry is peppered with inquiries into price-fixing by
suppliers. Labor governments set up State brickworks to break the price
cartel. Brisbane’s Archibishop Duhig attacked the brick-makers in 1931
for driving up the costs of his churches.
Commission found in 1919 that, although there was “no formal agreement
between the cement manufacturers, but there is an understanding between
the principal manufacturers and they fix prices.”
In 1968, the three
majors in ready-mix concrete launched a price-cutting war to force small
competitors to sell-out. At the time, Consolidated Quarries had 30% of
the Victorian Market. Its directors alleged:
The big three then
dropped their price $9 a cubic yard. Consolidated fell to Pioneer.
Collusive tendering is
the other strong-arm of employers belting up on their own kind. The 1990
NSW Royal Commission into the building industry came off the rails into
a bog of bid-rigging around the Master Builders Association.
The Federal Coalition
learnt from that debacle when it wrote the terms of reference for the
Cole Royal Commission. Hence, Cole did not follow-up the convictions of
ready-mix concrete companies for price-fixing throughout the early
Current head of the
Competition Commission, Graeme Samuel, describes such activities as “a
silent extortion that in many instances do far more damage than many of
worst consumer scams. They steal billions of dollars both here and
abroad from business, tax payers and ultimately from you and me as
consumers.” The concrete racket continues with the octopus in Germany
paying a €700 fine in 2003, while four US suppliers pleaded guilty a
few days back.
So, there is plenty of
work for the Construction Stasi. They might start by seizing the
“commercial-in-confidence” files of the law firms advising the
Coalition on matters relating to the Property Council and the Master
Builders. Armed with that information, the Stasi could turn their powers
of interrogation against the officers of these organisations to confirm
how history is repeating itself.
Who should be
hand-picked to head a Royal Commission aimed at the intimidation of
employers by employers? Forcibly retired Justice Jim Staples remains
19 June 2007