Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Baillieu steps up attacks on construction unions

Reading Time: 4 minutes

By Simon Millar, Socialist Party

On April 3 Victorian Liberal Premier Ted Baillieu and Finance Minister Robert Clark announced the implementation guidelines for the Victorian Code of Practice for the Building and Construction Industry. The code will apply to all government projects and Public Private Partnerships, but only those partnerships in which the government has a 50% stake of over $5 million.

Privately funded construction jobs are encouraged to follow the procedures outlined in the code without being legally compelled to. The code comes into effect on June 1 and all tenderers will be required to produce a Workplace Relations Management Plan (WRMP). This document’s role is to outline to the State Government how the tenderers are going to practically guarantee that the code is complied with.

The two chief reasons given for the introduction of the code are firstly to “improve compliance with workplace laws, promote productivity and help prevent the sort of massive cost blowouts that characterised the Victorian Government projects under Labor.” Secondly the Liberals stressed that the need for “new stronger guidelines is greater than ever before given the Gillard Government’s recent decisions to substantially weaken its own national guidelines and abolish the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).”

While most unions celebrated the end of the Liberal’s federal ‘Work Choices’ laws, the reality is clearly understood by the bosses and their representatives. It is also understood by thousands of rank and file workers whose disputes have been derailed by Labor’s ‘Fair Work’ laws. The Fair Work regime is really ‘Work Choices’ under a different name and carried out by the ALP and the pro-ALP union bureaucracy.

Similarly most unions celebrated when the ABCC was abolished and replaced by the Fair Work Building Inspectorate (FWBI). Similarly the FWBI retains all the key coercive powers of the ABCC. An amendment introduced by Adam Bandt (Greens) and Bob Katter (Australian Party) means the FWBI cannot further pursue unions once a court settlement has been reached between the unions and the companies involved.

While Bandt spoke against the whole bill he then went on to vote for it. In a similar way Bandt voted for the repressive Fair Work bill. This is the equivalent of someone speaking against a war while voting for an invasion, happy in the knowledge that an amendment meant that ‘enemy’ soldiers wouldn’t be shot if they surrendered!

Baillieu’s ‘code’ is simply an extension of the one-sided war against organised labour. It does not seek to supersede federal laws but rather to tighten compliance. It is also about further undermining the construction unions by reducing the number and effectiveness of its activists.

It is important to understand the stage that this one-sided war is at. The bosses are not yet confident enough to combine this attack with a full frontal assault on construction worker’s wages. This code is about first securing full control over worksites by management as a prelude to the inevitable assault on wages and conditions. This will become more of a reality as the economic crisis gets worse.

Overseeing compliance of this code is the Construction Code Compliance Unit (CCCU) headed by anti union ideologue Nigel Hadgkiss. Under the FWBI it’s the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) that is able to impose huge fines on unions. The CCCU is attached to the Victorian Ministry of Finance and the Treasury. Both bodies are unaccountable with no right of appeal.

Now Victorian construction workers are subject to both a state and federal watchdog, both with the power to inspect personnel records, enter worksites and treat construction workers as if they were criminals.

At present most construction workers have no idea that this code is about come into effect. No mass meetings have been called let alone stoppages or rallies. The default position of the pro-ALP trade union bureaucrats will be to lie low and channel political activity into re-electing the ALP. This strategy is a huge mistake.

Baillieu will take advantage of what looks like a prolonged downturn in construction where thousands of unemployed workers will be competing for fewer jobs. Rather than allowing unemployed workers to be played off against those in jobs, the unions should also draw the unemployed into an industrial campaign.

Both the Liberals and the ALP have their own anti-worker and pro-big business agenda. Clearly we can not rely on either of them. We need to fight for both an industrial and political strategy that can actually beat back the attacks.

The unions need to respond by organising an industrial campaign against both the state and federal watchdogs. They should start immediately by distributing information and then begin building for mass rallies and industrial action. The Socialist Party also calls on construction workers to demand that their unions begin the process of building a new mass workers party so we can get off the two-party merry-go-round and move towards political representation that actually puts the needs of workers first.

The main points of the code include:

– No appointed full time union representatives allowed on site
– No hiring of employee’s nominated by unions
– No displaying of ‘no ticket, no start’ signs or holding of ‘show card’ days
– Bosses not unions to run site inductions
– No agreements to implement ratio’s in regards to hiring of apprentices or employee’s over 45
– No parties, ie unions, can attempt to “unduly” influence employers to have a particular workplace arrangement in place such as the requirement for a contractor to apply project-specific wages and conditions
– No letting the union know about new staff, contractors or subcontractors
– No displaying of union or any other logos on company supplied property including clothing and helmets
– Employers can not encourage or discourage employees to join a union
– No ‘last on, first off’ clauses. The code stipulates that industrial agreements not contain selection criteria for redundancy
– No provisions in industrial agreements that require employers to force sub-contractors to provide their workers with equivalent pay and working conditions to the rest of the site
– No provisions that require an employer to consult or seek the approval of a union over the number, source, or type of labour required

Update: A mass rally against Baillieu’s anti-worker construction code will be held at 11am Wednesday July 4. Meet outside Trades Hall on the corner of Lygon & Victoria Streets Carlton South.


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