THE NSW Government has followed Victoria’s lead by planning to introduce a new industrial relations code of practice for public sector infrastructure construction projects.
Premier Barry O’Farrell says the new guidelines are necessary because the federal government abolished the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) and replaced it with a watered-down watchdog, Fair Work Building and Construction (FWBC).
When the ABCC was in place construction costs were reduced between 2 and 11 per cent by clamping down on illegal industrial activity, Mr O’Farrell said.
“Now that the ABCC has been disbanded by Federal Labor, we want to ensure taxpayers don’t get ripped off because of lax management practices or unlawful actions by unions,” he said.
The draft guidelines include banning ‘no ticket, no start’ signage on construction sites and ensuring dispute resolution procedures prevent premature industrial action.
A significant feature of the guidelines is the protection against discrimination provided to independent contractors, who play a vital role in the sector. Section 4.4 of the code forbids ‘arrangements that constrain or otherwise restrict the use of independent contractors’. The guidelines also prevent unions coercing employers to ‘enter into, vary or terminate a workplace arrangement’. The guidelines make specific reference to the infamous ADJ Contracting case by rejecting the inclusion of provisions in agreements that were found to be lawful in that case.
AMMA welcomes the NSW draft code and has repeatedly argued that employers should not have to consult unions about their own commercial decisions, such as the use of casual or contract workers. This was a key recommendation in AMMA’s submission to the Queensland Attorney-General which called for the adoption of a construction code in that state. In the submission AMMA stated that along with an industry regulator, a code should describe the minimum standards expected of all parties involved in construction projects.
Ultimately, the federal government needs to reinstate the powers of the ABCC that were neutered during its watering down into the FWBC. Until this happens, states and territories will be forced to tackle the issue of lawlessness in the construction sector on their own.