Master Builders’ members were given the opportunity to hear from Fair Work Building and Construction (FWBC) Director Nigel Hadgkiss at last month’s Industry Breakfast.
The insightful event saw Mr Hadgkiss discuss a range of topics, including industry productivity, respect for the law within our sector, pattern agreements and right of entry.
“One does not have to think too hard to recall unlawful activity in the building and construction industry,” Mr Hadgkiss said.
“To me, disputes like the Grocon blockade represent the tip of an iceberg with respect to unlawful conduct in the building industry.
“Far from being an isolated incident, the Grocon dispute was merely symptomatic of an industry within which unlawful activity extends beyond unlawful conduct to serious criminal activity.”
Referring to his own report of the Interim Building Industry Taskforce from a decade ago, Mr Hadgkiss outlined that concerns he held then around coercion, intimidation, violence and threatening behaviour were still relevant today.
“I think these concerns will be very familiar to many of you even now, and leads me to suggest that the only thing that has changed since 2002 is the year,” he remarked at the Industry Breakfast.
Talking about the need for a strong industry watchdog, backed up stronger industry laws, Mr Hadgkiss said a re-established Australian Building and Construction Commission could improve the sector’s culture and reduce unlawful activity.
“In my experience, the industry requires a powerful regulatory framework, strong powers and a determination to apply them against any person or organisation that contravenes the law,” said Mr Hadgkiss.
“In addition, head contractors, subcontractors and employees require the support of a strong regulator to resist unlawful demands and behaviours.”
FWBC returning to ‘core business’
Members heard of recent changes made at FWBC since Mr Hadgkiss’ appointment in October, saying he was focusing his agency’s efforts on their core business.
“This alteration in FWBC’s efforts is allowing our Inspectors to focus on coercion, unlawful industrial action, right of entry, freedom of association, discrimination and other conduct more commonly described these days as ‘thuggery’,” he said.
“It will look wherever the evidence leads it, whether such conduct is engaged in by unions, head contractors, subcontractors or anyone else.
“I am therefore committed to having the agency being responsive, visible and, at the same time, providing important education and advice.”
Bogus safety claims undermine safety itself
With more than 130 people on hand to hear his breakfast speech, Mr Hadgkiss also touched on right on entry, saying it looms large of his agency’s radar of complaints received.
“This brings me to the somewhat controversial topic of union organisers, who with, or without, permits enter sites, purportedly for safety, but instead enter for an industrial agenda,” he said.
“It is unacceptable for officials to obstruct work on Australia’s building sites on spurious grounds.
“Building and construction is a dangerous industry. Nobody would disagree that safety is paramount. However, on every occasion that union officials use bogus safety claims to enter building sites, it undermines the very system put in place to deal with legitimate safety concerns.
“I must emphasise to MBAV members know your rights and responsibilities. Know the right of entry laws.”
Mr Hadgkiss also commended Master Builders for circulating information to members about union officials who do not possess right of entry permits. Should you need help with knowing your rights, responsibilities or right of entry laws, you can contact Master Builders Industrial Relations Department or OHS Unit on (03) 9411 4560.
Pattern bargaining should be a relic of the past
Mr Hadgkiss also discussed pattern agreements, saying Australia’s workplace relations system emphasises bargaining at the enterprise level, rather than a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
“Our laws prohibit anyone from applying pressure that negates free choice or threatening adverse consequences if they refuse to sign an agreement,” he stated.
“This behaviour has no place in a system of cooperative workplace relations and I will not tolerate it.
“Employees, employers and their representatives should feel confident they can negotiate agreements that are fair, flexible and suit their individual circumstances and needs without the fear of reprisal.
“Pattern bargaining prevents discussions taking place between employees and employers about the things that most affect and matter to them at their workplace.
“At its core, pattern bargaining fails to acknowledge that not all workplaces are the same. It acts as a constraint on workplaces from innovating and delivering efficiencies that make those workplaces more productive and profitable.
“There are plenty of ways in which these agreements restrict efficiency and flexibility – for example, industry-wide RDOs, shutdown weekends and restrictions on using subcontractors and labour hire.
“These clauses reduce productivity and stifle competition and need to be consigned to the past where they belong.”
Grab your seat for the next Industry Breakfast
The next guest speaker at Master Builders’ Industry Breakfasts series will be Victorian Treasurer, the Hon Michael O’Brien MP.
Being held on 22 May, you can enjoy breakfast at the MCG and hear from the chief architect of the State Budget, which will be delivered just two weeks before this special event.
It will provide you and your business a great insight into the latest capital works projects being funded by the State Government and understand what actions are being taken to strengthen our industry. Find out more about the event or book today.