Victorian building unions win shorter week
by Peter Mac Victorian construction unions have initiated major industrial action for a shorter working week after significant recent victories. Workers employed on the construction of a stadium in Melbourne's Docklands area won pay rises of 24 per cent over two years. They also won a ban of 10 hours per week on overtime, and, most importantly of all, a 36-hour week. The deal has already been used as a precedent on other major building sites, including the Queen Victoria Hospital project. On some major Victorian sites employers have already agreed to phase in shorter hours, either as a shorter working week or as a nine-day fortnight. The reduced working week has major implications for industry as a whole. There has been no formal reduction in working hours for many years; in fact there has been a great increase in unofficial hours worked in areas of employment with low unionisation. Employers have warned they will launch a counter attack. The employer group Construction Employers Planning Forum (CEPF) said its members will start to lock out union members on sites where a shorter week is being claimed. "Protected" industrial action is scheduled for this week. In response, the CEPF proposed a number of lockouts take place on Tuesday this week. However, employers got the date wrong on the lock-out notices and have had to start again! Support for this action is, in any case, lukewarm at best; it is thought that there are no more than dozen employers who are fully in favour of the lock-out approach. The agreement to limit overtime is also significant. Employees had been asked to work increasing amounts of overtime, particularly as target dates for completion of major projects drew closer. This had led over time to some employees being asked frequently to work a 60-hour week, including full Saturdays and Sundays. The new agreement will ensure that the number of employees will increase and that overtime will be kept within reasonable limits. The Victorian campaign has had its counterparts in other States. In NSW building workers won a 15 per cent pay rise to be phased in over three years. However, as far as the campaign for reduced hours is concerned, at the moment the Victorian building workers are leading the way.