Does the CFMEU Dare to Change? 2

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Wednesday, July 15th, 2015
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When it comes to normal community standards of behaviour, the CFMEU just doesn’t get it.

The community doesn’t condone or tolerate racism, yet the CFMEU and one of its officials has just been fined for racially vilifying a site representative on a construction site.

As a community we don’t tolerate violence against women in the home, we don’t tolerate intimidation and coercion in the workplace, and building sites should be no exception. Yet the Royal Commission and the courts have heard evidence of acts of aggression against and denigration of women by some CFMEU officials.

In no other workplace are employees subjected to the intimidation, abuse and coercion one often sees on building sites.

There is no place in the building industry or the wider community for rogue operators who use ‘phoenix’ companies to resurrect failed businesses in a new corporate form to avoid paying sub-contractors and worker entitlements. Yet, the Royal Commission has heard that the CFMEU repeatedly signed enterprise agreements (EBAs) with the phoenix companies controlled by underworld identity George Alex despite those firms owing thousands in unpaid workers’ entitlements.

The community also has expectations that its members will return home safely to their families on completion of a day’s work, and again, building sites should be no exception. Safety on building sites is paramount for Master Builders and improving safety outcomes is a responsibility that must be shared by both employers and employees. Safety is a shared responsibility and building sites are safer workplaces when everyone works together. Yet, when called to account for their unlawful actions, the union often seeks to excuse its aberrant behavior on grounds of promoting safety despite the fact that their abusive and aggressive behavior undermines a strong safety culture on building sites.

Surely the community deserves better, particularly as the CFMEU’s actions undermine both the economy and key social policy aspirations.

There is no doubt that the CFMEU’s industrial tactics drive up the cost of publicly funded community infrastructure or that suppressing CFMEU industrial thuggery delivers substantial benefits from increased productivity, though the extent is difficult to numerically quantify. The Productivity Commission (PC) inquiry into public infrastructure costs found a strong adverse link between the poor industrial relations environment on major project sites and the cost borne by taxpayers.

Fewer schools, hospitals, childcare centres, aged care facilities and roads is the price our community pays for the toxic culture of the CFMEU. Liveability and more connected communities are sacrificed in pursuit of the union’s industrial agenda.

The PC also highlighted how the union’s industrial tactics act as a barrier to increasing the participation of women in the building and construction industry. Our industry has the lowest female employment ratio in Australia at just under 12 per cent compared with around 45 per cent for all industries. Worse, female participation has actually declined in the building industry over the past 20 years, against the trend in all other industries.

The PC suggests the aggressive nature of industrial confrontations in our industry might act as a barrier to women’s increased participation. This is hardly surprising when women in construction can expect to be confronted by CFMEU aggression and denigration, such as the instances heard exposed by the Royal Commission and Fair Work Building and Construction (FWBC).

Women in our community pay the price of the CFMEU’s cultural problems in lost opportunities for rewarding careers in a key growth industry and the community pays in lost productivity that results from gender diversity.

Master Builders’ support for the return of the powers of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) stems from its success in curbing industrial thuggery and affecting change. These are the essential prerequisites to increasing participation of women in the building and construction industry.

The CFMEU protests that restoring the ABCC would unfairly single them out from other unions. In reality, that is achieved by the union’s belief that they should not comply with community standards of behavior.

The union declares that it “dares to win.” The question is, does the CFMEU dare to change? All that is asked is that they behave like a normal union and its officials like normal people.

This article was written in collaboration with  Richard Calver, Acting CEO of Master Builders Australia.
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  1. Andrew Heaton

    Certainly, the construction sector is missing out on a big opportunity when almost half of all the labour force feel that the sector is not an environment for them.

    It seems to me, and this is admittedly, coming from somebody who has never actually worked on a building site, that the key to greater female participation in the construction sector workforce revolves around a shift in the broader culture within the sector. From what I am hearing, we are still getting jokes about 'rape rooms' and things like women being asked on dates by male colleagues and women being on the receiving end of sexist and degrading comments on sites. If the sector is to attract more women, this kind of thing has to stop.

    Certainly, unions have a role to play, as do companies, managers and current workers. I am not going to suggest that unions are or are not being constructive in this regard. More law abiding behaviour on all sides would help. But the fundamental picture regarding women in construction seems to be that attitudes toward women need to change across the industry.

    • Bea

      Why are women, especially young women going to attempt careers in construction when this kind of industrial relations culture is prevalent? As a parent, I'd infinitely prefer my daughters involved in almost any other industry. They would never encounter a foul mouthed, overtly intimidating union official working in any other workplace except a construction site.
      Would love to hear why the CFMEU go in for all that para-military style clothing and accessories as well? All the black-shirt style uniforms with the vipers and badges. What's with that?