Labor seeks to kill building code

The Australian, December 7, 2016:

Labor will seek to kill the new building code when federal parliament resumes next year, claiming it unfairly limits the capacity of construction employers to ­bargain with workers.

The opposition’s workplace ­relations spokesman, Brendan O’Connor, said yesterday he would seek support of crossbench senators for a Senate motion disallowing the code when parliament returned in February.

The Greens are expected to back the motion but crossbench senator Derryn Hinch, whose support Labor is likely to need, said yesterday he would oppose the motion. Employment Minister Michaelia Cash said the planned motion showed how far Labor would go to protect the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union. “Bill Shorten is willing to sacrifice the interests of Aus­tralians and good public policy to appease his union bosses,” she said.

The code prevents building employers agreeing to union claims such as casual, apprentice and labour-hire clauses if they want federal work.

Under a deal last week with Senator Hinch to get the Australian Building and Construction Commission bill passed, Malcolm Turnbull agreed that companies with existing enterprise agreements would have until November 2018 to comply with the code.

Mr O’Connor said the code prevented building employers, employees and unions from ­bargaining in a way that was available to companies and workers in every other industry. Because it restricted conditions that could be bargained over, companies would face pay claims from unions.

University of Adelaide law professor Andrew Stewart said the code “substantially interferes with bargaining freedom … It ­essentially tells employers there is a large amount (they) are not ­allowed to agree to and that employers cannot be the judge of their own best interests.’’

Senator Hinch said Mr ­O’Connor was “whistling Dixie’’ if he believed he could convince him to vote to scrap the code. “I’ve ­always supported the building code and got the amendments I wanted,’’ he said.

Greens employment spokesman Adam Bandt said the code was a “backdoor attempt to ­rewrite every negotiated enterprise agreement in the construction industry”.