Tools down if work­ers hot, sticky

The Australian - - FRONT PAGE - EWIN HANNAN WORKPLACE EDI­TOR

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.

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