New Federal Construction Code Announced

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Monday, April 21st, 2014
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Clauses in enterprise agreements which require contractors to employ non-working shop stewards or job delegates, impose union dictated terms and conditions upon subcontractors and obtain union approval regarding numbers and types of workers engaged on projects will be banned under a new national code aimed at curbing union power on federally funded construction projects in Australia.

However, the new rules are unlikely to come into effect at least until the current makeup of the Senate changes in June this year as the legal power to implement the code is contained in the same Bill that reintroduces the Australian Building and Construction Commission and is fiercely opposed by Labour and the Greens.

Announced last week by Employment Minister Senator Eric Abetz, the 27 page Building and Construction Industry (Fair and Lawful Building Sites) Code 2014 sets out standards and behaviours with regard to industrial relations practices to which all contractors will be expected to adhere in order to be eligible for work on projects funded by the Commonwealth government.

Once it comes into force, Abetz says the new code will help ensure contractors working on taxpayer funded projects are able to operate flexibly and efficiently and together with the reinstatement of the Australian Building and Construction Commission will help get the construction sector ‘back on track.

“For too long, the building and construction sector has provided the worst examples of industrial relations lawlessness,” Abetz said.

“The new code emphasises the importance of compliance with the law and freedom of association on building sites.”’

Under the code, clauses that impose what the government says are restrictive work practices will be disallowed, including those which:

  • require contractors to employ a non-working shop steward or job delegate
  • require all workers to be offered overtime where one is offered overtime regardless of whether or not there is enough work
  • prevent contractors from engaging subcontractors unless they provide certain union-dictated terms and conditions to workers
  • require contractors to obtain union approval regarding the number and types of workers engaged on a project.

Whilst similar codes applying to state funded projects in Victoria and a number of other states have been strongly opposed by unions, building industry groups welcomed the announcement of the new rules.

In a statement, Master Builders Australia Chief Executive Officer Wilhelm Harnisch said the code would strengthen the capacity of builders to resist union demands to sign agreements that enshrine unproductive work practices.

“The code is another weapon in the armoury against building union industrial thuggery that is shackling the productivity of the building and construction industry,” Harnisch said.

However, the new code is unlikely to come into force until at least July as the legislative power needed for the Minister to implement it is contained in Chapter 3 of the Building and Construction Industry Improving Productivity Bill 2013, which is unlikely to become law until the composition of the Senate changes after June 30 as Labour and the Greens remain opposed to its central plank which reinstates the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

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