Labor plan to axe building industry code
Federal Labor is examining replacing the Coalition’s contentious construction code with worker-friendly rules for government-funded building work, as employers announce a pre-election advertising campaign opposing key ALP workplace proposals.
Master Builders Australia declared yesterday it would fund national advertisements opposing Labor proposals to scrap the code and the Australian Building and Construction Commission if the ALP won the next election.
Opposition workplace relations spokesman Brendan O’Con- nor told The Weekend Australian yesterday that Labor was committed to removing the code and the ABCC because they were “unfair, unwarranted and undemocratic”.
The code — strongly opposed by the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union — requires builders to remove a range of conditions from enterprise agreements if they want to tender for commonwealth work. “The draconian building code prohibits employers and workers from negotiating enterprise agreements with conditions that deal with issues such as employment of apprentices, local jobs and safety measures,’’ Mr O’Connor said.
The Weekend Australian understands Labor will: consider replacement rules for government tenders that seek to impose new limits on temporary foreign workers; set minimum levels of apprenticeships; promote higher safety standards; and encourage greater female participation in the
male-dominated construction sector. Sources said Labor had not made a formal decision to replace the Coalition’s code but emphasised that any new rules would be done in consultation with employers as well as unions.
Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox urged federal Labor to reverse its decision to abolish the ABCC and scrap the building code.
“How can there possibly be a legitimate argument to abolish the ABCC when the CFMEU continues to demonstrate a flagrant disregard for the law,’’ Mr Willox said.
“When handing out fines to the union, judge after judge keeps pointing out that the union’s conduct is completely unacceptable. Without the ABCC, most of these cases would never have been brought before the courts because of employer concerns about reprisals from the union.”
Mr Willox said construction industry unions routinely used the commercial risk faced by contractors as a lever to secure industrial concessions.
“This results in restrictive work practices and cost burdens which drive up project costs to the detriment of the whole community,’’ he said. “The building code imposes a commercial risk on contractors that far outweighs the cost of capitulating to the unreasonable demands of unions. To be removed from future tender lists would have catastrophic implications for a major contractor. Billions of dollars of work is at stake.”
Master Builders chief executive Denita Wawn said her organisation was determined to campaign against the “irresponsible” scrapping of the ABCC and the code because it would deliver appalling outcomes for the economy and the community. “It would be wrong for people to believe that it’s large companies that are the major victims of building union bullies,’’ Ms Wawn said. “In fact, it is small businesses and subcontractors who bear the brunt of the union intimidation and all because they have not caved into what the union wants.”
Dave Noonan, national secretary of the CFMEU’s construction division, said the “anti-worker, anti-union” code had done nothing to address workplace safety, sham contracting and wage theft.
He said a replacement code under a Labor government would “need to have some teeth”.
“We need to stop wage theft, sham contracting and shoddy safety,’’ Mr Noonan said. “They should be the priorities for the industry and it’s predictable that the Master Builders are going to support Liberal Party policy because they are a branch office of the Liberal Party.”
ACTU secretary Sally McManus said the Coalition had denied construction workers the right to work safely and negotiate fairly.
“They have decided that some people should have less rights than others just because they work in construction, and they’ve introduced extremely oppressive laws that take away construction workers’ rights,’’ Ms McManus said. “They have placed industrial ideology above the safety of working people, and now people working in construction are in more danger at work. They’ve brought in a building industry secret police and construction workers are less free.”
Jobs and Industrial Relations Minister Kelly O’Dwyer said the ABCC “cracks down on law-breakers” and Labor’s promise to scrap the agency and the code showed Bill Shorten was “making good on his debt” to the CFMEU.
“When it comes to union bosses or small business and their workers, Bill Shorten will choose union bosses every time,’’ he said.