News National Report challenges building code

Report challenges building code

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A new report challenges the Government’s latest attempt to more tightly regulate the building and construction industry.

The building industry is the second-most productive after the mining sector, according to a new report by The Australia Institute and funded by the Electrical Trades Union (ETU), which challenges Government claims that a stricter code of practice for taxpayer-funded projects will “improve productivity“.

The report found that some parts of the construction industry, such as heavy and civil engineering, are 53 per cent more productive than the national average, based on ABS data.

Unions and employer groups say that the  proposed code of practice is essentially a soft form of regulation that uses the Government’s deep pockets, instead of its legislative power, to overwrite clauses in the enterprise agreements (EBAs) of the building and construction industry.

The code, originally introduced by John Howard and then repealed by Labor, is currently in place, but cannot be enforced until legislation passes the Parliament.

If enacted, it will apply across the building, construction, transport and maritime industries – a broader scope than under Howard. Any contractor or sub-contractor who tenders for a taxpayer funded project must adhere to it, even when they are working on private projects, or miss out on future government projects.

Developers confident the massive Wallalong housing project can still go ahead.
Parts of the construction industry are concerned about a new code of practise. Photo: AAP

Master Builders CEO Wilhelm Harnisch does not deny that the industry is already productive, but says that productivity could be boosted by stamping out illegal strikes and inflexibility in rostered days off, both of which are causing “significant disruption” to employers.

“No one has anything to fear from the proposed code,” Mr Harnisch tells The New Daily.

Unions such as ETU disagree, saying it is unnecessary government intervention and discriminatory against construction workers.

ETU national secretary Allen Hicks describes the code as “disgraceful, unAustralian and unfair” and says the uncertainty around whether or not the legislation will pass the Parliament is detrimental to workers and bosses alike.

“It adds a significant impost not only on our member’s ability to bargain in good faith with employers, but also the employer’s ability to have some surety about what their agreements with their workers will look like over the next 12 or 18 months or two years,” Mr Hicks says.

The code will also impose an administrative burden on employers, and is a broken promise from a government that promised to reduce red tape, according to Mr Hicks.

“To suggest that they want to cut red tape when they’re actually increasing the regulatory burden on participants in the building construction industry is just another broken promise,” he says.

The ETU also claims that the code, which invalidates any clause in an enterprise bargain agreement that does not conform to it, will imperil such things as rostered days off and Christmas holidays. Senator Abetz says the claim is dishonest and untrue.

Master Electricians manager of workplace policy Jason O’Dwyer also contests the claims of the unions, saying the code is necessary to “help stamp out” unlawful and unproductive behaviour.

“We support the code because the building construction industry has got a chequered past,” he says.

“There is an element of unlawful behaviour that occurs within the building construction, so we would say this code allows suppliers, subcontractors, principle contractors, and employees to actually exercise their rights without fear or favour,” Mr O’Dwyer says.

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