Construction union’s pay victory what Turnbull wants to stop

Construction workers in Victoria have secured a 5 per cent pay rise each year for three years in a new Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) signed with major builders.

Over 5000 building workers, members of the Construction division of the CFMEU, met in Melbourne to ratify the agreement, signed off by 20 major building companies including Brookfield, Multiplex, Probuild, Hickory, L.U. Simons and Built.

The EBA locks in a 36-hour week, and guarantees a rostered day off every second week for five years. It delivers a 5 per cent pay rise for the first three years and 3 per cent
in the fourth year, balanced out with minor productivity trade-offs.

Average wage rises over the year to March nationwide were just 2.1 per cent. But private sector commercial building work in Victoria is “robust”, with a 13 per cent increase in the second half of 2015 on a year before. Major building companies are making healthy profits. So workers are entirely justified in taking more of a share.

Malcolm Turnbull claimed the agreement was “shocking” and that builders were “basically stood over”, demonstrating again his pro-business attitude. Undermining Turnbull’s claims of its extravagance, the EBA was agreed by builders without one single strike day, despite the opposition of the Master Builders Association.

A re-elected Turnbull government plans to end agreements like this through re-instating the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), with its powers of interrogation of union members.

The ABCC legislation also includes changes to the national building code, which would apply retrospectively to agreements signed after April 2014. Builders seeking work on Federal Government contracts would be required to have agreements that comply with the code.

John Setka, CFMEU Victorian Secretary, said, in contrast to other states, “We refused to put [a renegotiation clause] in,” to apply should the code come into force. “We reserve the right to terminate this agreement, go on protected action, go out there and fight with all the builders and let’s see how we go.”

The union needs to take the same attitude if any of the builders call upon the services of a re-instated ABCC to come onto their sites to harass the union.

Finalising the EBA before the election and before Turnbull can reintroduce the ABCC may avoid the impact of the code, but the union still needs to prepare for action to stop the ABCC itself.

By Tom Orsag


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