Union officials are increasingly ignoring site safety procedures as well as laws relating to right of entry on construction sites, according to the chief of the organisation charged with maintaining law and order in the building sector in Australia.
Fair Work Building and Construction chief executive officer Nigel Hadgkiss says recent months have seen an alarming rise in breaches of right of entry laws and safety procedures on site, with the number of investigations his organisation had commenced regarding alleged right of entry abuses having jumped from 14 in 2013 to 108 last year.
He added that the FWBC had seen no fewer than four cases where union officers have allegedly disregarded safety procedures during alleged right of entry breaches in the past few weeks alone.
“Recently we have very unfortunately seen a trend developing where union officials are disobeying site safety rules while entering sites,” Hadgkiss said, adding that such rules exist to protect workers as well as the officials themselves.
“It is fair to say that Right of Entry breaches have become a significant problem.”
Hadgkiss’ comment comes amid a flurry of court cases initiated by FWBC against union officials for alleged right of entry breaches.
In one case brought before the court in January, for example, the regulator alleged that CFMEU (ACT Branch) State Secretary Dean Hall produced false documentation when asked to show his right of entry permit at a site in the ACT and expressly refused requests to obey site safety procedures following entry onto the site.
In another case, the regulator alleged CFMEU official Joe Myles flouted safety rules on the site of the Victorian Regional Rail Link in the west Melbourne suburb of Footscray by, for instance, manoeuvering himself underneath black and yellow safety tape marking off an unsafe and out-of-bounds area and subsequently entering the area as well as by disrupting a concrete pour so badly by standing between the truck and the pump that the concrete literally began to ‘cook’ and could no longer be used.
Meanwhile, the unions and the Labor party continue to ramp up attacks on the Abbott government, whom they accuse of going after unions but doing little to address concerns about worker safety.
In an address before Federal Parliament on February 12, Federal Senator Sue Line said 29 deaths on construction sites had occurred since the start of last year, and that the Abbott government had said nothing about this despite its extensive focus on the sector of late.
Asked about what can be done to restore order on site, Hadgkiss refused to comment on matters of policy. He said, however, that his organisation was conducting site visits and presentations to help employers understand their rights and responsibilities, operating a hotline which builders can call anonymously to report incidents or ask for advice, providing information about rules which all parties have to follow on its web site and had recently launched an app to give builders fast access to such information.
He encouraged anyone who finds themselves confronted by union officials who turn up on site without a valid permit to refuse entry to the site, contact the police at first instance where the official refuses to leave and report all such instances to the FWBC.
More broadly, he said the growing prevalence of illegal activity on building sites is cause for concern.
“I continue to be alarmed by the apparent relentless rise in lawlessness in Australia's building and construction industry,” Hadgkiss said.
“My agency is doing everything within its power to install the rule of law in the industry so that jobs can be completed on time and on budget and people can go to work in an environment free from fear and intimidation.”