As business and construction industry groups call for policies to promote housing, infrastructure and economic growth in the lead-up to the federal election, a key union in the building industry has gone on the offensive, urging its members to vote against the Coalition and warning victory for Tony Abbott on September 7 would be disastrous for workers.

In a recent statement to members of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CMFEU), union secretary Dave Noonan called on union members to ‘Vote for your rights’, and said an Abbott government would favour foreign workers over local jobs and put big business ahead of workers.

“It doesn’t take much thinking to arrive at the conclusion: he cares more for the profits of big business than the well-being of people like you and me,” Noonan says.

“Tony Abbott’s got form on this. Take a look at his record when he was Workplace Relations Minister in the Howard Government: he instigated the Cole Royal Commission, he supported employers in taking legal action against workers, he tried to remove protections in the area of unfair dismissal and he backed companies in sacking workers.”

Noonan’s call comes amid intense lobbying efforts by a range of parties associated with the sector in the lead-up to the federal election, which have seen unions calling for protection of worker rights and industry groups lobbying for measures to grow the economy, promote housing and infrastructure and slash red tape.

Outlining a 50-point plan to boost housing supply, for instance, the Housing Industry Association has called for lower taxes on new residential building, measures to stimulate infrastructure and simplification of building approval procedures.

In its Strong Building, Strong Economy campaign, meanwhile, the Master Builders Association has called on the government to reduce the fiscal deficit, promote affordable housing, build better infrastructure, restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), return to a ‘balanced’ industrial relations system and generally engage with business.

Unsurprisingly, these groups differ with unions when it comes to industrial relations.

While Master Builders, for example, says changes to the Fair Work Act instigated by Labour go too far in favour of workers and a crackdown on the use of 457 visas was unwarranted, the CFMEU says the foreign worker program is rife with abuse and sees the workplace changes as being about restoring fairness.

Another point of contention revolves around the Coalition’s proposal to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission, which industry groups credit with restoring order to the industry but unions say had excessive power and lacked accountability.

Noonan’s call for construction workers to support the Labor Party is, however, supported by those within the broader union movement.

ACTU president Ged Kearney, for example, says a Coalition government would wind back worker protection.

“We can see the plans big business has for Australia – cuts to important entitlements like penalty rates, more individual contracts and fewer protections for people at work,” Kearney said in a statement earlier this month.

“Tony Abbott has refused to give full details of his IR policy – including the terms of reference for his proposed Productivity Commission inquiry."

“However we know he supports shifting more workers on to individual contracts, has refused to enshrine penalty rates in law and wants to reduce the power of the independent IR umpire.”

  • Abbott’s forecasted policies are very alarming for those of us who have partners in the construction industry who rely on commercial penalty rates. In saying that, I don’t have much confidence in either party to provide a balanced solution for both the workers and employees but we’ll back the CFMEU.

  • Andrew Heaton`s article is unbalanced. The problem with the contruction industry is the CFMEU whom are a law unto them selves. The CFMEU are a bunch of thugs, rat bags , stand over merchants and crooks Maitland is a perfect example. We need a strong ABCC to bring some balance into the industry and we need to get rid of the union apologists who run the FWA. Fair Work Australia and the CFMEU have been responsible for the greatest loss of productivity and have contributed to excessive costs in the construction industry over the last 10 years.

  • Just another scare tactic from the CMFEU and the Labor Party. I was in the plumbing union for 17 and in that time all they did was to cause problems on site and to bring on unnecessary strikes ,they would spur on the members to strike for weeks with no pay but still get paid themselves We would strike for a lot of unnecessary thing that could have been gained by a sensible meeting with the management .The union is there for itself not its members

  • The unions and Labour (one in the same) are the ones for big business, they do not look after the small business man that employs half of the work force in this country and are the real workers the union says they represent when they do not, they do back room deals with big building companies and get kick backs and jump on guys trying to make a living employing a handful of staff.

  • These union leaders are in a world of their own – without businesses there is no employment. Its moronic. This article is another one sided view point, perhaps next time you might like to consider the unnecessary financial and administrative costs that unions cause to businesses. Costs on the bottom cause costs on the top.

  • I would go along with most of the comments on this page at the moment. The tacticsa used by unions are stand-over and virtually blackmail. There is no democracy in unions-no free say and most members feel afraid to speak their minds. There should be a strong arbitration system to hold the unions to account.
    The theory is that unions stand for the little man but the saleries paid to union employees is way above what the members earn.

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