The head of the construction arm of the CFMEU has faced off with crossbench senators over changes to laws reinstating a building industry watchdog, warning the union might launch more industrial action as a result.
Legislation to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission cleared parliament late last year but Senator Derryn Hinch has had a re-think about a critical provision over the summer break.
Instead of a two-year transition period for companies to comply with a new building code, Senator Hinch has agreed to the government’s original intention of nine months.
It also means companies that have failed to negotiate code-compliant enterprise agreements will be ineligible for government contracts from September.
National secretary of the CFMEU’s construction division Dave Noonan hit back at Senator Hinch during a parliamentary hearing on Monday, after the independent accused the union of launching a hate campaign against him.
“I don’t characterise it as a hate campaign. I characterise it as holding accountable a member of parliament who has made a decision without consultation with one worker,” he said.
The frustration and anger is due to the amendments being an attempt to strip away job security and safety.
“I’ve described it as a backflip. I’ve been critical, I’ll be critical to Senator Hinch’s face,” he said.
“We deal with a shifting set of circumstances all of the time and your latest arrangements with the prime minister … if just another element of uncertainty for the whole industry.”
Mr Noonan said no-one was consulted on the secret deal and denied a two-year transition was requested by the union.
“If the intent was that there was a nine-month phase-in instead of a two-year phase-in then Senator Hinch has been sold a pup,” he said.
“Now there is ostensibly a nine-month transitional period but the requirement for companies to be code-complaint before a tender can be awarded makes it immediate for everybody in the industry who has an agreement.”
Contractors would not spend time and effort in tendering if they could not be sure that the contract would be awarded.
Mr Noonan also hit out at senator Nick Xenophon over workplace health and safety as well as One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts for his statements about the union.
“It frightens me that you even get a vote on it but it’s a democracy so you do,” he said.
He said in reply to Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie it was a recipe for instability and there was the potential for increased industrial action.
It fears there are upwards of 3000 contractors and many tens of thousands of their employees who will be affected.
Senator Hinch has said he was told by subcontractors and middle-sized construction companies over summer that the legislation passed last year was killing them.
Senator Xenophon supports the nine month transition period but wants the changes to be the subject of a Senate inquiry.