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.”