Electrical Trades Union bid to penalise builders for IR deals

The Australian, July 19, 2017

A key union is demanding “financial penalties” be paid by employers, including extra cash for casuals and double time for –employees working rostered days off, in exchange for the union agreeing to make workplace deals compliant with the Turnbull government’s new construction code.

The Electrical Trades Union yesterday revealed claims had been served on hundreds of Victorian companies that are trying to make their enterprise agreements code-compliant to avoid being black-listed from federal projects.

The union’s Victorian secretary, Troy Gray, told The Australian the union had not conceded the need to strike code-compliant agreements but “if the industry is forced to go that way, then a code agreement will be more expensive than what they are now”. “It’s a financial penalty,’’ he said. “The whole code is going to cost the industry more.”

National builders condemned the union tactic, claiming it was the actions of the construction unions, not the code, that would drive up costs.

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash last night said the code was about ensuring important federal projects were “not held to ransom by bullying union –bosses”.

But Electrical Trades Union national secretary Allen Hicks backed the Victorian push.

“We make no apology for doing whatever we can legally to protect the rights and interests of our members and their families,’’ he said. “We will not sit back and allow conservative governments to blackmail building industry participants to conform to their –industrial relations ideology without challenging them head on.”

Mr Gray said the union –wanted workers paid double time for working on a scheduled rostered day off. He said they should also receive a day in lieu and be given seven days’ notice.

Under existing union agreements, workers receive a day in lieu for working a RDO and no double time. A current clause requiring the employer to get the permission of the union before an employee can be asked to work an RDO is deemed in breach of the code.

“If we cannot regulate it, then we’ll regulate it by having a financial disincentive,’’ Mr Gray said.

“The code is ideological and it’s ridiculous but, at the end of the day, we need to have something that will regulate RDOs and family time. If they want workers to work their family time, then they are going to have to pay a pretty penny for it.”

Current clauses in agreements limiting to six weeks the time a regularly employed worker can be engaged as a casual are in breach of the code.

As compensation for losing the benefit, the union wants casuals paid a 30 per cent loading after working eight weeks.

“We would say that if you have to pay double time for a RDO or 30 per cent for a casual, employers will think twice about whether they actually need that RDO (worked) or whether they need that employee on casual or whether it’s better to have that employee permanent,’’ Mr Gray said.

Employers will be able to win federal work until September without changing current non-compliant workplace agreements, provided they strike a new code-compliant deal specifically covering the contracted federal work.

But from September, all agreements that have ongoing application to building work will need to be code-compliant.

The Australian revealed in April the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union had decided not to renegotiate hundreds of agreements to comply with the Coalition’s new building code.

Dave Noonan, the national secretary of the union’s construction division, said yesterday the union’s position had not changed.

Federal Labor intends to put forward a disallowance motion in federal parliament next month seeking to have the code killed off. However, the opposition is struggling to get adequate support from the Senate crossbench to get the motion passed.

Opposition workplace relations spokesman Brendan O’Connor said Labor had predicted the imposition of the “unfair” code would result in further industrial disputation.

Senator Cash said the code was designed to ensure small businesses could compete fairly for work “without union intimidation, and important infrastructure can be delivered on time and on budget”.

“The CFMEU and the ETU need to get on board with our reforms to bring about a fairer and more productive building industry,’’ she said.

Master Builders Association chief executive Denita Wawn said the ETU claim was “yet another example of building unions putting their own narrow self-interest ahead of the interest of workers, taxpayers and the wider community”.

“The community will pay more due to the union’s ideological obsession,’’ she said.

Chinese-owned John Holland confirmed this week that its enterprise agreements were compliant with the code but other major builders are not declaring their hands and are racing to meet the September deadline.