Media & Speeches

Why Our Children Need a Strong ABCC

This opinion article by Business Council Chief Executive Jennifer Westacott was published in The Daily Telegraph on 20 October 2016.

The Prime Minister wrote in a column this week that the case is overwhelming for parliament to pass legislation to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).

The Prime Minister is right, this legislation must be passed. The case was just made stronger by the release of a video of a union official engaging in threatening behaviour against a safety official on a Queensland construction site.

Let me tell you what the ABCC means for Australian families and our children. The building industry ­employs more than one million ­people and is our third biggest employing industry, so many of your children will start their working lives in the industry. Almost 20 per cent of young people working full time are in building and construction. Many of them are doing apprenticeships and for most of them it’s their first proper job. We’re talking about close to 150,000 youngsters starting from the age of 15.

But what if your child’s first job was in an enterprise rife with bullying, intimidation, and physical and verbal violence? We now have four royal commissions over 40 years telling us the industry has “a culture of systemic corruption and unlawful conduct, including corrupt payments, physical and verbal violence, threats, intimidation”.

This is a culture no one in Australia should be exposed to, least of all our children. Our children need to learn from their very first time in a workplace that it is not OK, under any circumstances, to swear at co-workers, threaten them, bully them, intimidate them or resort to physical violence. This behaviour and this culture has to stop, but workers can’t stop it. It’s systemic and we need an independent party to hold unions and employers to account. That independent party is the ABCC.

This industry is too important to allow this ongoing issue to continue to fester. Building and construction is a big part of our economic future, and will create a lot of jobs, but people need to want to work in those jobs.

We’ve all struggled with finding tradies to do the work we need. We need to think why we have consistent skills shortages in these areas and why we have trouble attracting young people into a career in building and construction.

When it comes to attracting women, the story is even worse. Building and construction has become a highly sophisticated industry using technology to replace physical labour. The old reasons for why it’s difficult to attract women to the industry no longer exist, but women are still the minority in the industry, making up only 11 per cent. How can we expect to attract women, particularly young women starting their careers, to an industry that will be a big part of our economic future, when we have a culture of bullying and violence?

And how do we expect this industry to be productive when people are being bullied and intimidated? Australia is struggling with productivity, and we know a bad workplace culture ensures lows productivity.

People are most productive when they’re working together. When they come up with solutions to the problems they face day to day. It is close to impossible for someone to do this and be at their best if they’re working in a culture of intimidation and fear.

This systemic cultural issue must be tackled, and that’s what the ABCC will do. Our politicians have a very simple proposition before them. Fix the building and construction industry or allow it to fester for another 40 years.