Baillieu to tackle building unions

State government set to appoint its own construction industry watchdog.

State government set to appoint its own construction industry watchdog.

THE Baillieu government is set to appoint its own construction industry watchdog in a bid to rein in the power of building unions in Victoria and to counter the Gillard government's decision to abolish the federal building watchdog.

The state's move comes amid a looming threat of industrial chaos on Victorian building sites in response to construction giant Grocon offering its workers a non-union agreement - its first such move in a decade.

The new role of Victorian building watchdog has been offered to Nigel Hadgkiss, the man appointed by the Howard government 10 years ago to establish the soon-to-be-disbanded Australian Building and Construction Commission.

A government source confirmed to The Age that Mr Hadgkiss had been approached by the Baillieu government to act as its construction watchdog, with special powers.

Mr Hadgkiss is likely to be responsible for enforcing a new Victorian building code - modelled on one introduced by the Howard government - that will require bidders on state projects to ban ''unlawful or undesirable'' workplace practices and respect freedom of association.

Mr Hadgkiss, who declined to comment when contacted by The Age, was appointed to head the Howard government's building taskforce in 2002.

The taskforce was the predecessor to the ABCC and was set up as a result of recommendations made by the Cole royal commission into lawlessness in the building industry.

Mr Hadgkiss was later appointed deputy director of the ABCC, a role he left in 2008. At the time of his resignation, he said: "I applaud the government's commitment to maintaining a 'Strong Cop on the Beat' for the building and construction industry."

Earlier this year, the Gillard government moved to abolish the ABCC, a move applauded by the union movement but slammed by conservative state governments.

The move for a Victorian watchdog comes as Australia's biggest privately owned construction company, Grocon, risks industrial chaos on its Victorian sites by offering its workers a non-union agreement.

Last Thursday, powerful Labor Party-affiliated construction union the CFMEU applied to Fair Work Australia for approval to hold a ballot to begin industrial action against Grocon.

Less than 24 hours later, Grocon launched its move to push

through a non-union-endorsed enterprise bargaining agreement by writing to workers and asking them to vote in a secret ballot about whether they wanted to accept the deal.

The decision by Grocon to hold a vote on a non-union agreement looms as the next industrial relations headache for the Baillieu government, which has endured gruelling negotiations with the police and nurses unions. It is understood state and federal ministers have been briefed on Grocon's decision.

The provocative move by the company comes after the breakdown of lengthy negotiations between Grocon and the CFMEU about reaching an agreement on a union-endorsed EBA.

It is understood Grocon senior executives decided to abandon negotiations with the union after it refused to drop demands that Grocon allow members to fly union flags on Grocon sites, employ its stewards and allow union officials unfettered access to building sites.

Existing laws require union officials to give 24 hours' written notice before entering a site.

Grocon's workers will have until the end of this month to vote on the non-union-endorsed deal, which offers them a 24.5 per cent pay rise, including increases in overtime, superannuation and other benefits. The CFMEU declined to comment when contacted by The Age.

A source close to Grocon said the company's move was about ensuring its operations were not dictated by unions. ''This is not about wage increases or reaching a fair agreement because Grocon is offering both. It is about Grocon refusing the union demands about how it runs its business.''

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