Turnbull’s Code no Nirvana for Construction Workers or Employers

There has been lots of media speculation about the Turnbull government’s construction code in the wake of the Senate crossbench voting with the Liberal Party to support it.

The code is being talked up by Workplace Relations Minister Michaelia Cash as the answer to all of the construction industry’s problems.

In fact, the code is an unprecedented interference in the affairs of business owners.

It’s a neat piece of irony that the Liberal Party, supposedly the party of small government and free enterprise, has legislated to suffocate business in one sector of the economy.

Every single agreement made between workers and unions is to be vetted by the ABCC, the government regulator. Included in the code is a laundry list of matters upon which businesses and their workers are no longer legally allowed to include in workplace agreements.

These include clauses that prevent unsafe hours of work, limit casualisation, encourage the hiring of more apprentices, and limit the use of labour hire. These are all issues that workers and their employers agree are important. They’re all things that, if left unchecked, will wreak havoc in the industry.

The government’s intent seems clear: they want to further casualise an already insecure and itinerant industry, letting the real issues in the industry to go unacknowledged and unaddressed.

Issues like the industry’s poor safety record. There have been 19 workers killed already this year - 19 families broken.

Issues like mental health, substance abuse and suicide, which employers and unions have been working together on with little help from the government.

Issues like security of payment for subcontractors. Nick Xenophon crowed that he’d had a breakthrough on this issue when the ABCC law first passed, but the ABCC quietly watered down the reporting requirements on unpaid progress claims.

This means subbies have been left with no real protection on this key issue. Xenophon has left them out in the cold. Another hollow deal done with the government.

CFMEU members are outraged by Xenophon, Hinch and One Nation’s betrayal of working people on this issue. They’re outraged but they’re not surprised. After all, these “independents” vote with the Liberal Party in nearly 90 per cent of Senate votes.

Unlike Senator Jackie Lambie, they are not real independents – they’re Liberal Party supporters wearing another badge. It might hide their true colours, but nothing can hide their contempt for blue collar workers.

For our part, the CFMEU will continue to negotiate high quality agreements for our members.

Since the passing of the code, the union has been inundated by employers seeking to alter agreements.

We are talking to construction workers about what this means to them and how best to protect hard-won wages and conditions. We are alerting all construction workers to the fact that some shonky employers are already using the code as an excuse to con workers into signing off on changes to agreements that aren’t even necessitated by the code.

Any worker who is approached to change their agreement or enter a new agreement should make sure they get in touch with the union. We will continue to get the best outcomes for construction workers, the people whose skill and sweat builds this nation.

Dave Noonan