Construction (Melbourne Metro Tunnel)

The Civil Contractors Federation has claimed new enterprise bargaining reforms could “cripple” the industry.

The industry peak-body said new rules had the potential to cripple the infrastructure sector by causing widespread industrial disputation and thereby threatening the livelihoods of thousands of civil construction companies and the workers they employ.

The Federal Government will move to re-legislate multi-employer bargaining in its recently introduced Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Secure Jobs, Better Pay) Bill 2022.

Multi-employer bargaining will allow unions to negotiate enterprise agreements with more than one employer at a time, increasing their bargaining power and allowing for industry-wide protected strike action.

Though currently banned, multi-employer bargaining persists in some heavily-unionised industries, such as the construction sector, and has historically driven higher wage growth for employees.

The Civil Contractors Federation National CEO, Chris Melham, likened the decision to ‘throwing a grenade’, and condemned a perceived lack of consultation from the Federal Government.

“Within 48 hours after confirming its commitment to retain the $120 billion, ten year rolling infrastructure investment program, the Federal Government has thrown a grenade into the infrastructure sector by confirming its intention to dissolve the Australian Building & Construction Commission and create industry wide uncertainty by introducing industry wide pattern deals,” Mr Melham said.

“The most disappointing aspect has been the lack of open and transparent consultation by the Government in the formulation and delivery of this Bill to the Parliament which has caused significant industry uncertainty.

“It is also unreasonable for the Government to use the “Jobs and Skill Summit” as the platform for justifying the introduction of this Bill. This Bill in its entirety was not presented to the Summit, but rather a high level of indication regarding jobs, skills and productivity.”

Mr Melham said the Federation would support a Senate inquiry into the bill, which would allow stakeholders to make clear their positions on the bill.

“Civil Contractors Federation supports this Bill being referred to a Senate Inquiry to allow stakeholders an opportunity to consider its content in more detail and put forward their respective positions, a process that should allow sufficient time for widespread consultation between industry groups and their members,” Mr Melham said.

“The infrastructure sector showed great resilience and commitment to the Australian economy by working nonstop through the COVID-19 pandemic keeping hundreds of thousands of workers in a job and this Bill in its current form now threatens the livelihoods of those workers and their employers – it will potentially become an industrial relations epidemic.”

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