“The shovels will start moving in a matter of months”, a triumphant Joe Hockey declared on budget night as he announced an extra $12 billion in infrastructure spending. The federal government has big plans for infrastructure – committing $50 billion over the next six years.
It will be a profits bonanza for the huge companies that dominate the construction, infrastructure and transport industries. But for the workers holding the shovels, driving the cranes and fixing the steel on the projects of Hockey’s dreams the government is planning a nightmare.
Earlier this year, the federal government released its proposed Building and Construction Industry (Fair and Lawful Building Sites) Code. Under the Code, any company that receives a single dollar of government work will be obliged to abolish key clauses in every enterprise agreement it enters (even on jobs not funded by the government).
Significantly, the Code bans companies from entering an agreement that governs the conditions of subcontractors. This will open the door to a major attack on conditions. Decent wages, inclement weather provisions and the 101 other conditions found in enterprise agreements could be sidestepped by any company simply by contracting work out to cut price labour hire firms or other subcontractors.
The Code will ban any company working on or tendering for government jobs from employing a non-working union rep at any of their sites. And no enterprise agreement can allow the provision of facilities to any union delegate.
This is a frontal attack on union representation in commercial construction, where full time union stewards are a part of everyday working life, and where an effective full time steward can make a huge difference in policing workers’ entitlements, conditions and safety.
This Code – which the government hopes to pass under the new Senate – is a serious assault on some of the strongest unions in the country. It is a key component of the Abbott government’s offensive against every worker.