Tools down if workers hot, sticky
Employers have warned that a CFMEU-backed, hot-weather policy allowing Brisbane construction workers to stop work when the temperature hits 28C and humidity reaches 75 per cent will be a “health and safety nightmare” and increase disruption on the city’s projects.
Following a campaign by the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union, Master Builders said 140 commercial contractors and subcontractors had agreed to apply the policy across southeast Queensland, including the $3.6bn Queen’s Wharf project in Brisbane.
Under an agreement between Multiplex and four unions including the CFMEU, Queen’s Wharf employees will be able to stop work temporarily when the temperature reaches 28C and humidity is 75 per cent or higher three hours or more from the start of a shift.
Bureau of Meteorology data shows there were 13 days over the past year when these weather conditions applied.
New details of the Queen’s Wharf agreement have emerged since its approval by the Fair Work Commission, including estimates by employers that traffic controllers will earn $194,302 a year if they work 10 hours overtime a week on top of the standard 36-hour week.
Industry figures said the fouryear deal was based on the CFMEU’s Queensland pattern agreement “but with steroids”.
Employees can earn $7800 in productivity payments on top of a $20,800 site allowance, 10 days paid family violence leave, 26 rostered days off and 12 per cent superannuation.
Casual workers will receive a 40 per cent pay loading if they are refused permanency after six weeks under the deal, which includes previously disclosed pay rises of 5 per cent each year.
Industry figures estimate carpenters working 46 hours a week will earn about $240,000 a year.
Master Builders Queensland chief executive Grant Galvin said the hot-weather policy was “ripe for exploitation” by the CFMEU.
“This will create an occupational health and safety nightmare,’’ Mr Galvin said. “It absolutely has the potential to cause more stoppages in Brisbane throughout next year.
“If you applied this provision outside of southeast Queensland, it’s likely that no construction work would get done in a year as Queensland is by nature, hot and humid. If you applied this provision to Darwin in the NT, you wouldn’t work one day in a year.
“When we questioned the logic of limiting this provision to SEQ if it was a genuine health and safety issue, the answer we were given was ‘the workers outside SEQ are more used to the higher temperatures and humidity, therefore they are at less risk as they know how to manage it’.”
Mr Galvin said he would not comment on the Queen’s Wharf agreement because Multiplex was a member of Master Builders. Multiplex and the CFMEU declined to respond to questions about the agreement, which also covers the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the Electrical Trades Union and the plumbers’ union
Under the project’s guidelines, employees will be alerted to possible “extreme hot weather” forecast for the following day.
Work will be modified to reduce the risk of heat exposure by: rescheduling “hot tasks” to the cooler part of the day; providing extra rest breaks, cool drinking
water, ice machines, fans and coolers; employing more workers where possible; installing shade cloth to reduce radiant heat; and potentially limiting the day’s work to eight hours.
Where the temperature is 28C and humidity 75 per cent or more “after three hours from the commencement of a shift there will be an orderly cessation of work and preparations for safe completions of critical tasks currently underway … or modifications to the workload”.
The policy also applies when the temperature reaches 35C — irrespective of the humidity level — which is consistent with guidelines in other states.
One senior industry figure, who did not want to be named, said the agreement showed the “absolute stronghold” the CFMEU had over industry in Queensland.
“Nobody has a problem paying staff well, but no company would willingly pay over $250,000 a year for a carpenter on a 50-hour week with 26 rostered days off every year without being forced to do so with a very big stick, and that stick is the threat of unlawful industrial action and stoppages,” the industry figure said.
Casual employees engaged by Multiplex on a “regular and systematic basis in excess of six weeks” have the right to request permanency. If refused, their hourly rate will be increased from 125 per cent to 175 per cent.
The agreement provides for apprenticeship ratios and Multiplex will provide a union delegate with facilities including an iPad with “mobile internet access”. The agreement says Multiplex and unions see the project as providing an “opportunity to be a lighthouse for the continuing modernisation of the workplace”, including the employment of more women, indigenous and older workers.
“To maximise productivity”, a canteen has been set up on site which Multiplex will open one night a week to provide meals for the homeless,” it says. “The service will be funded by the company and workers who can contribute $5 per week towards the initiative.”
In addition to the $8 per hour site allowance, workers receive the $3 per hour “productivity allowance” in recognition of a series of “productivity improvement” initiatives.
Following almost three years of demolition, excavation and shoring works, Multiplex started construction on the foundations and public realm of the project in August. The northern riverfront development — which spans almost 10ha — features a new casino, the overhaul of heritage buildings, five new hotels with more than 1000 rooms, about 50 restaurants and a major retail precinct.