As debate surrounding the proposed reintroduction of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) gathers pace, new figures show that the nation’s building industry lost 7,700 working days due to industrial action over the past quarter, making the industry the worst-performing sector in the country in terms of days lost to industrial disputes throughout the entire economy.

Released last week, figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that the nation’s building industry lost 7,700 working days of productivity as a result of industrial disputes in the December quarter – up from 6,800 in the September quarter and 1,800 in the December quarter of last year.

This equates to 9.9 days lost per every thousand workers the industry employs – up from 2.3 in the same period twelve months earlier and well above the national average of 3.5.

industrial desputes lost

On this basis, the industry is the worst performing of all sectors throughout the Australian economy in this area.

Released quarterly, the figures take into account unauthorised stopwork meetings (i.e. illegal strikes) as well as general or political strikes, stopwork to support other groups of striking workers, rotating strikes and work stoppages initiated by employers (such as lockouts) but do not include other forms of action such as work-to-rules, go-slows and overtime bans or working days lost in locations other than where the stoppages occur (e.g. stand-downs due to lack of materials).

The latest figures come amid ongoing debate over the proposed reintroduction of the ABCC, which industry lobby groups such as Master Builders Australia, the Housing Industry Association and the Australian Constructors Association say is necessary to tackle unlawful conduct within the industry but which unions say had excessive powers, lacked accountability and discriminated against workers in a particular sector of the economy.

The figures also follow the release of the Productivity Commission’s draft report into public infrastructure earlier this month, which called for greater penalties for unlawful industrial disputes as well as greater use of government buying power to leverage better industrial relations practices.

days lost due to disputes

Outside of the construction sector specifically (industry specific breakdowns were not available for the figures), on an economy-wide basis, the ABS figures found that in the December quarter:

  • With 15.2 working days lost per thousand employees, the Northern Territory was the worst performing state for industrial harmony followed by New South Wales (5.6) and Queensland (3.2).
  • Employment conditions relating to enterprise bargaining was the most common cause of dispute, accounting for almost one third of disputes by number and just over half of all working days lost. This was followed by disputes of remuneration in enterprise bargaining and health and safety concerns.
  • Almost half of all disputes which ended did so because of a pre-determined date or time of return to work, followed by negotiation without third-party intervention and resumption without negotiation.