The Coalition’s Bill to establish a dedicated Registered Organisations Commission (ROC) to monitor and regulate unions and employer organisations successfully passed through the Senate today, after previously being rejected twice by Parliament.
The successful passage of the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2013 was secured with crossbench support from Senators Derryn Hinch and Nick Xenophon, who insisted on amendments to protect and compensate union whistleblowers and an undertaking to introduce further legislation to extend these protections to corporate and public whistleblowers by December 2017. In giving his support to the Bill, Senator Hinch argued that it was time for a full-time, independent regulator for the sector which has been “wracked with scandal”.
The Bill had the support of every crossbencher with the exception of Jacqui Lambie.
The new independent watchdog will have extensive investigative and information gathering powers in dealing with unions and employer bodies. Unions will also be subject to many of the same regulations required of corporations, including:
- increased obligations on office-holders in unions and registered organisations with respect to the disclosure of material personal interests (and decision-making where officers may have such interests);
- stronger financial, disclosure and transparency requirements applicable to officers in relation to financial management matters; and
- increased civil penalties and criminal liability for serious breaches of statutory duties by union and registered organisation officers.
The ROC will be headed by the Registered Organisations Commissioner who will assume the responsibility for overseeing unions in place of the Fair Work Commission.
The focus now turns to the proposed legislation to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), the independent construction industry watchdog set up by the Howard Government in 2005. It monitored the sector and enforced civil workplace laws such as restrictions on unlawful industrial action and industrial threats.
The ABCC was abolished by the Gillard Government in 2012 and replaced with the Fair Work Building and Construction (FWBC). It has reduced powers and imposes lower penalties for breaches of prohibitions on unlawful industrial action and coercion. The ABCC, if re-established, would have significantly more coercive powers than the FWBC and the ability to impose greater penalties.
The stated aim of the new ABCC Bill is:
"… to provide an improved workplace relations framework for building work to ensure that building work is carried out fairly, efficiently and productively for the benefit of all building industry participants and for the benefit of the Australian economy as a whole."
Debate on the ABCC Bill is expected to take place in the Senate today.
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