The Guardian October 27, 1999


Construction workers' wage campaign

Building unions have responded to the Federal Government's targeting of 
their industry by going on the offensive. They have just secured an 
agreement with employers that delivers improved wages and conditions, which 
will undoubtedly frustrate the Government's political agenda.

The Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) has negotiated a 
national agreement with major companies that delivers a 15 per cent pay 
rise over three years. In a blow to the Howard/Reith agenda to de-unionise 
the industry by promoting individual contracts, employers agreed to promote 
the union agreement with any sub-contractors as well.

Victorian building unions, however, are campaigning for additional benefits 
and have begun holding stopwork meetings over a more far-reaching claim.

With Kennett leaving the stage and the possibility of a Labor Government, 
unions want to send a strong message to the incoming Government to stand up 
to the Federal Government's attacks on unions and their industry, in 
particular.

Building workers have been very militant in Victoria, partly due to the 
Kennett Government's attacks on WorkCover and the high number of workers 
killed.

In the past, Victorian unions have successfully negotiated with employers 
to protect themselves from the reforms being pushed by the Howard/Reith 
Government.

The Victorian Building Industry Agreement (VBIA) was one such measure which 
ensured the retention of conditions and union rights that had been stripped 
from awards by the Federal Government.

The Federal Government had put rules in place to allow employers to buy 
into an anti-union confrontation, but, according to unions, employers 
prefer the certainty that industry-wide union-negotiated agreements can 
provide and have been reluctant to wage the sort of MUA-style confrontation 
that the Government is seeking.

Significantly, just when the Federal Government is trying to smash pattern 
bargaining and any form of industry-wide agreements, the current campaign 
by Victorian building unions is the first time in over 20 years that the 
principle construction unions  CFMEU Construction Division and CFMEU-
FEDFA, the Plumbers Union (CEPU), and the Electrical Trades Union (CEPU)  
have joined forces for a joint industrial campaign for a pattern enterprise 
agreement.

They are seeking a pay rise of eight per cent a year for three years (a 
total of 24 per cent), a 36-hour week and wage protection to compensate for 
effects of the GST, a rise in superannuation payments and an increase in 
the amount paid for redundancy.

With the shorter working week, unions want there to be no increase in the 
amount of overtime worked, so that employers have to employ more workers.

The Victorian Trades Hall Council said, "unions are determined to achieve a 
collective outcome regardless of Reith's policy of trying to force workers 
to have individual company outcomes or even individual contracts".

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