The leader of a key building union in Australia has pledged to defy efforts of federal and state governments to introduce tougher rules on rights of entry for union officials and hit out at Coalition policies regarding the reintroduction Australian Building and Construction Commission and temporary work visas.
In a wide-ranging address before the union’s Divisional National Conference, Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) National Secretary Dave Noonan pledged to fight any attempt on the part of the Coalition government to erode the rights of construction workers.
"Tony Abbott has no mandate to take away our members’ human rights; no mandate, to cut their wages and no mandate to make their jobs less safe" Noonan told his audience, adding that Abbott would stop at nothing in his ‘jihad’ to take money out of the pockets of construction workers and provide more money to large builders, developers and financial institutions.
Noonan’s comments come amid much anticipation of change in the industrial relations environment throughout Australia following the Coalition’s win in the federal election.
Along with reinstating the ABCC, which building industry which building industry groups credit with restoring law and order within the industry but which unions see as a Howard government era attack on workers, key Coalition promises include moving toward a modern and efficient tribunal system for industrial disputes, improving the operation of the Fair Work Commission, supporting independent contractors and removing ‘red tape’ surrounding the 457 work visa system.
Noonan is particularly incensed about promises regarding the ABCC as well as what he refers to as ‘open slather’ on temporary work visas.
He says previous laws regarding the ABCC violated International Labour Organisation rules, whilst a more generous 457 scheme will lead to further exploitation of foreign workers whilst local apprentices miss out on jobs.
He takes particular exception to a report commissioned by the Master Builders Association in the lead up to the election regarding productivity benefits associated with the ABCC, questioning the methodology, assumptions and calculations in the report and describing the MBA as a ‘mob headed up by fat cats’ whom he says ‘have never been to a building site except as a backdrop for a press conference and lack even elementary knowledge of the construction process’.
On the matter of safety, Noonan described Queensland government efforts to remove unions’ rights to order work stoppages during safety disputes (moves which are expected to be adopted nationally) as a ‘disgrace’ and says union officials will be prepared to defy this in order to protect the safety of their members.
“If we have to go in and represent our members, we have to go in” Noonan is quoted as saying in Fairfax Media reports. “And if that means some technical law will be broken, then I’ m sorry about that. But our duty is to our members.”
Noonan’s address came on a day in which the union observed a minutes’ silence for workers who workers around the world who had been killed on the job.
He highlighted the plight of workers on World Cup facilities in Qatar, including reports of workers earning just $US8 per day for fifteen hour days and estimates that 4,000 will have died building the stadiums by the time the Cup arrives.
“All this death and suffering for a few games of football and the greed of the Qatari regime and their multinational mates” he says.