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.

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