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."