The Guardian March 3, 1999


Government conspiracy:
Attack on building unions

by Tom Pearson

The Howard Government is gearing up for an all-out assault on unions in the 
building industry. It was revealed last week that the Government was 
conspiring with building industry employers. The Government has approached 
building companies with government contracts offering them support during 
industrial action if they support the Reith/Howard agenda.

Companies willing to impose a Code of Practice, devised by the Government, 
for the industry have been told that their contract will be altered so that 
deadlines can be changed, and penalties for failing to comply with 
contractual obligations scrapped.

The Code outlaws unionised sites (closed shops) and allows employers to 
claim that they have been coerced into workplace agreements, and so opt out 
of them.

The contract changes would apply during any dispute over the code or the 
Workplace Relations Act.

"This is one of the key pieces of the jigsaw in revealing Peter Reith's 
coming assault on the building industry", said John Sutton, National 
Secretary of the Construction Division of the CFMEU.

"When Peter Reith and his employer advocate, Jonathan Hamberger, provoke a 
dispute, contractors will be given the incentive to hold out by extensions 
to their contracts. Reith underwrote Patrick in the docks dispute. Now he 
wants to do the same in the building industry."

Hamberger was previously head of the Building Industry Taskforce in NSW, 
which had a program to attack building unions in that State. As Employment 
Advocate for the Howard Government he is now the overseer for enforcing 
Australian Workplace Agreements (individual contracts) on behalf of 
employers.

In the building industry Hamberger's office has been on a vendetta, 
harassing union officials on a daily basis.

A leaked internal memo from employer body Master Builders Australia says 
that the Government has confirmed "undertakings given to Master Builders 
Australia by the Department of Employment, Workplace Relations and Small 
Business that contracts with government departments would be applied in a 
manner which supported the application of the Government's workplace 
relations policy and objectives."

The memo said this "would be done by allowing the extension of time for 
practical completion of works where an industrial dispute attributable to 
the National Code of Practice and beyond the control of the relevant 
contractor delays the practical completion of the works."

The Government has also ordered the Productivity Commission to compile yet 
another report critical of regulations, work practices, conditions in 
enterprise agreements, awards, and of the role of unions. This is to be 
used as a pretext to launch an attack on the CFMEU and other unions in the 
building industry.

Their aim is to take away the union's means to enter into pattern 
agreements, whereby the union negotiates a standard enterprise agreement 
which organisers then go out and have applied at the thousands of sites 
around the country. This ensures the same conditions for workers across the 
industry.

"The decision to give government contractors extensions on their contracts 
is, in our view, a conspiracy between the government and certain employers 
to try and weaken the ability of unions to bargain", Alex Bukarica, 
Construction Division Assistant National Secretary, told The 
Guardian.

It would assist employers to hold out against industrial action or in cases 
where they locked out a workforce.

"It's all about giving employers a leg-up at the expense of workers. It's 
about attempting to make building workers suffer in terms of their wages 
and conditions, driving those conditions down in order to maximise the 
profits of employers", said Mr Bukarica.

"It's got nothing to do with productivity, it's got nothing to with 
protecting the individual. It's about sending up the profits of the 
multinationals in our industry."

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