Construction workers’ lives will be put at risk and cowboy builders will escape scrutiny if the Queensland government pushes ahead with changes to workplace safety laws, unions say.
Unions wanting to inspect safety breaches will be effectively locked out of construction sites for at least 24 hours if the attorney-general gets his way.
Jarrod Bleijie says the changes are needed to ensure safety issues are addressed by the government’s safety regulator and to stop unions from “hijacking” workplaces.
While Australia’s Property Council has welcomed the proposal, union bosses are fuming.
Queensland Council of Unions president John Battams says forcing unions to give notice before entering worksites will give employers time to cover up dangerous practices, putting lives at risk.
“Twenty-four hours notice gives a dodgy employer time to hide what would be otherwise obvious dangerous situations,” he told AAP.
Seven people died on Queensland construction sites in 2012, up from five the previous year, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland statistics show.
However injury and disease claims for the industry are falling. These claims dropped from 25.9 to 19.7 injuries per 1000 workers in the four years to 2011, according to SafeWork Australia.
CFMEU secretary Michael Ravbar says while most builders put safety ahead of profits, there are still many “cowboys” and “rednecks” in the industry.
“Safety would drop, deaths would increase and accidents would increase,” he said of the proposed changes.
But Mr Bleijie says it’s the unions who are hurting workers.
Militant union activity was locking employees out of their workplace and caused one contractor to lose 42 days of work earlier this year, he said.
The Property Council of Australia applauded Mr Bleijie’s announcement, saying unions were using safety concerns as a reason to enter construction sites to wage internal battles and drive membership.
But Mr Battams said the proposed changes to the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 was yet another example of the government pandering to the interests of big business.