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Calls for urgent right of entry reform

MASTER Builders Australia has urged the new Senate to pass the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2014 to tighten provisions for unions’ right of entry onto construction sites.

Marion Lopez
Calls for urgent right of entry reform

The Senate this week welcomed 12 new senators, including six crossbenchers from parties including the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party and the Palmer United Party.

The Coalition has three new senators joining its ranks, Labor has two and the Greens one.

This mix could prove difficult for the Abbott-led government to implement its policy agenda.

But in light of recent industrial actions, Master Builders Australia urged the Senate to support the government’s plans for reform “to redress the current imbalance which favours unions”

“The current position with right of entry law is that it is too complex, unbalanced and is permitting unions to enter work sites on doubtful work health and safety grounds without any consequences for the unions,” Master Builders Australia national industrial relations director Richard Calver said at the Industrial Relations Conference 2014 last Thursday in Melbourne.

“It is these practices that are illegitimate and to which the law should be directed.

“Recent evidence of a systemic campaign to misuse right of entry to intimidate a contractor at its Adelaide sites together with the horrendous disruption caused by the Myer Emporium dispute over who controls health and safety – the employer or the union – reinforces the need for action to be taken.”

In April, the Fair Work Building and Construction commission launched proceedings against the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union and five of its officials in the Federal Court after a physical confrontation occurred when they allegedly forced their way onto an Adelaide building site.

Speaking at a Master Builders South Australia breakfast forum in Adelaide at the time, FWBC director Nigel Hadgkiss said his agency was confronting an industry “with appalling lawlessness on a daily basis”

“In the last 10 days alone [in April], FWBC’s Adelaide office has opened 17 new investigations into right of entry breaches,” he said.

“These matters no doubt greatly affect productivity on sites, along with the potential to delay projects meeting deadlines.

“Then there is the added dimension of union officials being flown into Adelaide from interstate.

“Therefore, recognising that your industry requires support in this regard, I have, in turn, flown FWBC staff in from around the country to assist the team in Adelaide.”

In March, the CFMEU was fined $1.25 million for illegal blockades at Melbourne construction sites in 2012.

The illegal action included a four-day protest, in defiance of a court order, at the Grocon Emporium site in Melbourne's CBD, which sparked clashes with mounted police who were called in to escort non-union workers onto the site.

“Master Builders will be highlighting this situation to the new senators who take office from July 1 and informing them of the urgent need for the Senate to pass Fair Work Amendment Bill 2014 to restore a fairer balance to the laws,” Calver said.

“Passing the bill will restore an appropriate balance to this important area of workplace relations – for example, the changes to the law which require employers to provide accommodation and transport to unions on remote sites is a step too far.

“Construction employers are not travel agents.”

The Queensland government recently introduced amendments to its work health and safety laws that require 24 hours notice for right of entry on health and safety grounds.

Calver said this change was one step towards improving right of entry laws.

“Safety considerations should not be so devalued that they are used as a mask for other agendas,” he said.

“This reform should be introduced in each state and territory.”

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