Government regulators focus on conduct in commercial construction by the CFMEU and Builders

Government regulators increasingly focus on conduct in commercial construction by the CFMEU and Builders

Every commercial construction operator needs to ensure they are aware of the powers conferred on regulators to monitor all parties’ behaviour and conduct within the industry. While most would have a reasonable knowledge of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), you may be unaware of a dedicated team within the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) that focuses on investigating allegations of anti-competitive conduct within the commercial construction sector.

Established in 2017 within the ACCC, the Commercial Construction Unit’s (CCU) primary focus is to investigate and prevent anti-competitive conduct within the commercial construction sector. Such conduct could include:

  • Anti-competitive behaviour (including cartels, secondary boycotts, exclusive dealing, agreements to lessen competition, misuse of market power);

  • Unfair contract terms;

  • Unconscionable conduct; and

  • Coercion.

Initial complaints to the CCU can be triggered by using the unit’s anonymous online reporting tool to lodge a tip-off, a complaint, or to engage in a two-way conversation live with a CCU investigator.

The CCU’s activities are intended to support the Federal government’s desire to ensure effective competition within the construction sector and consequently deliver fairness to all businesses.

Several significant cases have arisen from the unit’s operations, including:

  • February 2018 – CFMEU ordered to pay $1m in penalties for engaging in secondary boycotts in Victoria by preventing Boral and a subsidiary company from delivering concrete to several sites in Melbourne;

  • August 2018 – CFMMEU charged in relation to alleged cartel conduct from inducing suppliers of steel fixing and scaffolding services to reach contracts, arrangements or understanding to builders in the ACT; and

  • December 2020 – CFMMEU and Hutchinson Builders are facing civil proceedings related to an alleged agreement between the builder and the union to terminate the contract of a waterproofing subcontractor in Brisbane as a union enterprise agreement did not cover them.

It is important to note that prosecutions are occurring against all key industry players, including builders, subcontractors and trade unions.

It seems clear that the government intends to continue to support the activities of the CCU financially, and therefore, it seems likely that their presence will become more pronounced within the construction sector over the next several years.

Construction industry | ACCC

For queries about anti-competitive conduct or other employment questions, please contact Dean Cameron at Workforce Advisory Lawyers – We Know Employment Law on 0417 622 178, 1300 WAL LAW or via email to dean.cameron@workforceadvisory.com.au

Disclaimer: This information is provided as general advice on workplace relations and employment law. It does not constitute legal advice, and it is always advisable to seek further information regarding specific workplace issues. Liability limited by a scheme approved under professional standards legislation.

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