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Committee: Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill 2013, Building and Construction Industry (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2013

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 30 Nov 2016

Tuesday, 29 November

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (22:12): I withdraw Australian Greens amendment No. 1 on sheet 7983 and I move Australian Greens amendment No. 1 on sheet 8003:

(1) Clause 34, page 29 (line 29), at the end of the clause, add:

(4) If the Building Code includes provisions in relation to building enterprise agreements:

(a) the provisions may only apply in relation to a building enterprise agreement made on or after the commencement of this section; and

(b) any building enterprise agreement made, or approved under the Fair Work Act 2009 before the commencement of this section is taken to comply with the Building Code.

The TEMPORARY CHAIR ( Senator Reynolds ): Senator Rhiannon, there are just some questions: I understand that it is not on the running sheet but that it has been circulated previously?

Senator RHIANNON: Yes. This amendment is about the Building Code. The Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill 2013 will not only put in place a new politicised union-busting commission but it will also usher in a new Building Code. This is really what we need to concentrate on. The Building Code is the essence of the problem that we have here; it epitomises the seriousness of what we are dealing with. It is the Building Code that will have enormous detrimental impacts on workers and employers in the industry. The government's Building Code will put severe limits on what can be covered by workplace agreements. If a company negotiates an agreement that does not conform to the requirements of the code, the company will be ineligible for Commonwealth funded projects. This is where the government has come up with a scenario to really lock in a code that will really restrict companies being able to get on with their workforce and get the job done. The government is saying that they have put improving productivity into the bill now—the improving productivity bill—whereas this will in fact do the reverse, because it is so onerous in the way it will play out. It will be particularly punitive to companies that are attempting to do the right thing by the workforce and to actually work in a reasonable way.

We know that more than one million Australian workers will be impacted by the new code. This includes not only employers tendering for government construction projects but also all employees of the entity tendering for the government work working in the private sector, all entities that supply transport or prefabrication manufacturing to government jobs, and other entities that include contracting for transport suppliers. Again, this is why the Greens and the people opposed to the ABCC give such emphasis to the Building Code. Here, as you can see, the reach of it is enormous; it reaches right into the transport industry as well as the construction industry. Those who want to destroy the union movement go as far as they can to achieve that by gaining maximum control and by being so punitive right across the construction industry, pulling in the transport aspects as well.

The Building Code not only prohibits union-friendly clauses, the code will also prohibit major existing employment conditions for construction workers. Again, this is where we see the seriousness of this agreement. For example, the code prohibits 76 clauses in a construction ETU agreement for electricians. I will go through what those clauses are. When I am spelling them out, keep Work Choices in mind, because this is why the Building Code is being called 'introducing Work Choices by stealth'. Remember there were many problems with Work Choices and many onerous aspects to it, particularly because it is stripped down the agreements that workers should have the right to collectively determine with their employer. It removed the ability for workers to do that. Here is just one example from an ETU agreement, which, as I said, the code would totally remove 76 clauses from. These include clauses that: prevent unlimited ordinary hours worked per day; guarantee the employees' ability to have a day off on Christmas Day and Easter Sunday public holidays; encourage employment of apprentices; discourage discrimination against mature workers; include agreed stable and secure shift arrangements or rosters; ensure construction workers' conditions and entitlements cannot be eroded; provide for equality and fairness on-site for construction workers; and impact on the rights of construction workers to have a safe workplace.

This is what we have been talking about through the second reading debate and in the committee stage—how sinister this ABCC legislation is. It is about smashing working conditions and how workers collectively come together to improve their pay and improve their conditions. That is a most extraordinary list. And how horrible as we come into Christmas. I so love this time of year, yet here we read that, if you work for the ETU, in your agreement for electricians—my dad was actually an electrician for a long time—you could lose the ability to have your Christmas Day and your Easter Sunday and your public holidays. People here are going to be enjoying their public holidays. I bet everybody here is looking forward to Christmas. And this is what we are about to do: we are about to come forward with legislation that has a building code in it that would knock out all those conditions for working people.

The coalition rip into the CFMEU time and time and again. I put on the record again my congratulations to the CFMEU for continuing 150 years of really solid work—not just for their own members, but work that has benefited working people across this whole country by establishing standards and conditions. And here we are at 10.20 pm, two days to go before the end of parliament, and you bring this in? It is so ugly.

I know, from some of the meetings I have had with construction workers and people who work in the industry, that many employers are actually concerned about the code, not only because the code will increase costs and risks to companies and remove conditions to maximise labour productivity, but also because the code introduces 8,465 words of prescriptive red tape, removing entities' managerial rights to employ staff in accordance with their own commercial practices. This is, again, where it is punitive to the companies that are not going along with the ideological obsession of the government to smash the union movement. Lots of companies work very productively and constructively with the union or unions that cover workers in their workplaces. But, no, this government wants to remove all that; they want to end that. That is what this Building Code is about.

The major cost will be the cost to productivity. This is where it gets extraordinary. You listen to the government bang on about productivity all the time. They vilify the Greens and have a go at Labor now and then, making out that we are damaging the economy, yet here they are coming forward with measures that will not improve productivity, as it states in the bill, but will set it back. The title of this bill is a real reminder that when governments come forward with a title that sounds pretty good, then your alarm bells should really ring. You should well and truly be alert that they are up to something—and, indeed, they are with this legislation. As I said, the major cost will be the cost to productivity from removing the conditions which have underpinned high productivity in construction, including the productivity and motivational effects of workers' perception of a fair day's pay for a fair day's work, respectful and trusting relationships with their employers and across worksites, and safe working hours and conditions.

The Building Code introduces unprecedented government intervention. It is extremely ugly; it is extremely wrong. We see intervention, auditing, compliance costs and liabilities to businesses—this is one of the great untold aspects of this story. Very few people who have written about it in the mainstream media have identified this, so, while there is an aspect of corporate Australia really driving the government to come forward and get this legislation passed as soon as possible, there are many businesses that just get on with their business, that work pretty well with their work force—they give them a pay rise now and then, negotiate with the union when they come forward. But now they are going to be hit with this auditing, the compliance costs and various liabilities. They are not happy with what the government is doing; they can see what is going on here.

There will be an operational cost of having to negotiate with employees on pay, conditions, job security and access to their representatives. These operational costs will be imposed if you go along with what the government is up to here. There are legal and operational resources to revive project planning, scheduling, re-contracting and monitoring of providers, and then there is complying with the code obligations on a daily basis. The compliance here is enormous—and remember, this is the party, the Liberals and Nationals, who bang on about red tape. They come forward with their various bureaus and task forces to remove red tape and say it is bad for business, but here they are becoming so extreme in how they plan to implement this Australian Building and Construction Commission, with the centrepiece being the Building Code. Their aim is to wind up unions, to make Australia union fee or to have them so compliant, like they are in some countries, that they lose the muscle that they need. Many times in this debate we have heard how unsafe workplaces have become when unions cannot get out there and organise. That is why we need the unions.

What we have here are a whole lot of measures that are going to make it harder for business, like compliance costs, the intervention, the auditing—all this has to be paid for; it all takes up time and they have to make provision for who is going to do it and when they are going to do it, and what happens if it is not done on time. This is red tape in an extreme form. But the government do not talk about that—they do not own up to the fact that that is part of what they are up to. Then there are the increased insurance costs to cover increased risks and liability. That is the cost and liability increase for commercial builders of having contractors or other suppliers banned by government. Remember, that is how this can play out. If you have not complied with the government, that is how it will play out. The Greens amendment certainly should be supported.

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