Unions ‘Right of Entry’ is fundamental to safety – so says Senator Nick Xenophon, and I agree with him.

Safety is a huge issue in the construction industry and it’s no exaggeration to say that many workers take their life into their hands when they walk on site in the morning. There’s not much confidence that the employer will enforce safety given that corporations go unpunished for breaking the law, even in the event of a workers’ death.

Earlier this month, our community was shocked and appalled that the charges against the builder responsible for the death of Jorge Castillo-Riffo in 2014, in Senator Xenophon’s home state, were dropped. A week later, another worker died on a site run by the same builder, again in Adelaide. Just over six months ago, Kay Catanzariti, was pictured leaving an ACT court, in tears, after being informed that the company responsible for the death of her son, Ben, would not be prosecuted.

So we were surprised by Senator Xenophon’s support for the amendments to the ABCC brought about by Senator Derryn Hinch’s backflip because it is at odds with his statements about safety and the significant role of unions in protecting members.

Both Senator Derryn Hinch, who claims his about face is a result of talking to a wide range of people over summer (despite failing to consult unions or workers in the industry) and Senator Xenophon sided with the Government to vote on a bill that delivers worse safety, leads to excessive overtime and further casualises an already itinerant industry.

They voted for amendments that now outlaw unions and employers being able to negotiate on union officials’ right to go on site to inspect safety, apprenticeship quotas, jobs going to Australian citizens over temporary visa holders and the use of Australian made products over cheaper, non-complying imports. These are issues that have been publicly and proudly supported by both Senators.

We can only conclude that either they have been hoodwinked by the Government, or they are willing participants in the ideological war against workers being waged by the Turnbull Government.

Either way, the PR spin they put on their independence, speaking up for ordinary Australians and careful and considered decision making, is false.

This amendment is about entrenching disadvantage for ordinary working people. Protections such as working hours and allowing people proper rest breaks, job security and working within your skills and experience are all under threat. And their votes have made it law.

The Federal Government have been hard at it for some time, attacking workers in the construction industry for their rates of pay, building a case for their desire to put more profits into the pockets of property developers and big corporations who have donated generously to the Liberal Party. These relentless attacks on workers’ pay have been happening while executive salaries have soared. The Master Builders Association – who have been promoting the Government’s ideological agenda at the cost of their members’ interests – have assisted by producing reports with conflated figures that do not represent the reality of the industry.

Senators Hinch and Xenophon have given the government the green light to downgrade workers’ pay and conditions in our industry that will further entrench the divide between the rich and the poor, widely reported for being the root of so many of our social and economic ills.

These amendments are not just about locking unions out of our legitimate role of negotiating on behalf of our members for their pay and conditions. Unions will be locked out of negotiating on matters that affect our members’ well-being and by extension, their families and communities.

Amidst the rantings of right wing politicians and their media allies, it is easy to forget the critical role Unions have played in delivering the fair, supportive and productive Australia we have today.

The CFMEU’s impairment policy is a case in point. It’s a collaborative initiative that seeks to create path ways for rehabilitation for those impaired by drug and alcohol, while at the same time maintaining a safe workplace. For more than twenty-five years, the union has worked on the ground providing care and counselling for workers, helping to turn people’s lives around. We have supported workers who have suffered substance abuse, lately dealing with the difficult and very harmful addiction of ICE – an issue that is close to Senator Xenophon’s heart.

We want to remind him of his declaration, prominently displayed on his website, that he won’t rest until there is ‘support for all those affected by ICE’ as his vote now prohibits our ability to advocate and implement an initiative that is recognised for improving the lives of workers, the industry, families and our community.

By voting for the ABCC amendments, Senators Hinch and Xenophon have gone against what they publicly profess and made it clear they stand with the only sector that will benefit from these changes: the corporations from the big end of town.


  • As a drug free recovering addict who has maintained over 26yrs of being totally free of all mood ultering mind changing substances I can say that had it not been for the support of our construction union CFMEU I would not have been able to become a positive functioning member of our society.
    I up hold all of what our union does to better our conditions in our construction industry and I see the detriment that this coalition government is creating through its agenda and attack on the workers of Australia.
    The social division that the legislative implementation of these draconian laws will help maintain the ever growing concern of drug addiction in our work place and society.
    Accountability and trust is what needs to be implemented and my union has never failed me over the years I have been a RECOVERING ADDICT in our construction industry.

    • Wow….Unions actrually cares about safety ! Please pull the other one, The CFEMU only care about collecting fees. How about engaging with the workers more and getting them to take responsibility of their actions. The majority of safety incidents I come across are workers not doing what their SWMS indicates.

  • Absolutely fundamental But major concerns are that it is based on 24 hours notice and the safety of workers shouldn't have to wait or having to use an ARRIO. Discussion with a boss or supervisor should be immediate. If it was up to the Boss or manager workers would have no representation (& the Liberal party); discussions should be allowed to take place anywhere within that work area taking in to account production in all matters of a visit.

  • Absolutely – from families (who've lost loved ones at work) our experience is the less Union activity on the job, the higher the chances of more deaths. These preventable deaths MUST be stopped

  • Well I'm "gobsmacked" at what you have to say Dave!
    "I can only conclude that either YOU and / or your CFMEU cohorts have been hoodwinked by your own ideological war against the Construction Industry and the Australian Economy in general! Excessive wages (3 times CPI) is the biggest contributor to unaffordable housing, and workers unprepared to participate in a SAFE WORK ENVIRONMENT need to be held more accountable for their actions than Hinch or Xenophon and the Turnbull Government.

  • Dave I would agree that 'safety' is a huge issue in construction. And it should be the CMFEU’s top priority. The consequences of ‘unsafety’ are utterly unacceptable. In construction, there are around 125,000 workers seriously injured each year – about 10 times the number declared as ‘claims’ (not people) as ‘official’ SafeWork Australia statistics! There are on average 36 deaths each year in construction and around 190 construction workers who commit suicide every year.

    Add to this that Australia has the worst record on asbestos in the world and the second highest mesothelioma death rate in the world, with 14 deaths a week resulting from exposure to asbestos! Further, between 2014 and 2021, mesothelioma deaths are expected to rise to 18,000 (according to Australian Government Institute of Health and Welfare) but 40,000 according to other sources!

    As you say Dave, in the case of the builder charged in the death of Jorge Castillo-Riffo the charges were dropped. Appalling! This is the norm – rarely is anyone held responsible or prosecuted when workers are killed or seriously incapacitated – and in such rare cases the fines are pitiful. And so it continues – as here another death and the same builder!

    The question is: "What are the unions doing?"
    Dave as you say, it’s all about the big end of town. They control the industry and direct policy and practice – it is the biggest game in town! Of course, this only possible because they are ably assisted by the Bureaucracy. It would seem obvious that the BIZ-BUREAU team are the puppeteers who pull the strings of their puppets, the pollies. Whilst the actions of Xenophon and Hinch are inexcusable, one should not expect any different. There are no 'independent' MPs, just as there is no representation of, for or by the people through the ALP – this a fabulous fabricated 'fantasy’!
    If one reflects on the ALP, it is little different to the Liberal Party. Considering its roots, formed out of the union movement to represent and support ordinary working people, the ALP lost its way decades ago. It has become enmeshed as part of the fabric of B-B team who operate purely for the benefit of the 'big end of town' – and their own self-interest. All the beneficiaries follow the mantra of 'profits over people'!

    In relation to workers’ safety, how is it that we have so many deaths, so many suicides, so many seriously injured workers each year, and so many deaths from mesothelioma? As you know, one Australian worker is seriously injured every 9 minutes! Gobsmacking! How could this be the case if the party of workers, supported by the unions was on the job? How can we have millions thrown on the scrap heap as the permanently disabled, unable to ever work again? And most shamefully, their Work Cover claims routinely denied – as revealed in the latest Vic Ombudsman’s Report (Sep 2016) – so many dead through the delaying tactics of the procrastination process? All designed to fail workers.

    As an outsider looking in, it is obvious that if unions and the ALP had not lost their way, workers could not be killed and maimed in their millions over the last 30 years. The Union Assist facility for example is not what is needed – it supports the unfair system as part of the ‘fabric’ perpetuating the status quo – where workers lives are of no import and their claims systematically denied! Dave, it’s time for the CMFEU and the other unions to use their might to force the ALP for legislative change on workers’ safety, to pay out immediately on legitimate Work Cover claims, to enforce laws and prosecute those who commit industrial manslaughter. It is past the time to stop the carnage.

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