Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Tradies cop a Christmas blow

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Denita Wawn, Master Builders Australia CEO The Buloke Times

In what is starting to feel like Groundhog Day for bad Government process, the Government with the support of some crossbench Senators has decided to ram through aspects of its damaging IR “Closing Loopholes” Bill.

Any remaining trust between the business community and the Albanese Government has today been eroded.

It is disappointing that Senators David Pocock and Jacqui Lambie did not consult with the industry on any potential amendments before doing this deal.

“Celebrations”

The unions are today celebrating their Christmas gift, while tradies and Australians who are grappling with a cost of living and housing crisis will foot the bill.

The Albanese Government has failed to understand how building and construction work is performed.

The labour hire changes expected to pass at the weekend undermine a range of legitimate arrangements in our industry, including the use of labour hire and specialist service subcontractors.

These arrangements are not “loopholes” but are lawful, long-standing, and they are central to how building works are undertaken both domestically and internationally.

Despite amendments that passed last week, service subcontractors in our industry will continue to be caught up by these changes.

Firing line

If you’re a subbie like a brickie, a tiler, a sparkie or a plumber, you are now in the firing line. We know they were not the intended target of this change but the Government has failed to hear their pleas.

Unless subcontractors have the time and financial means to appear before the Commission to prove subcontractors should not be captured, they will be.

This change will hit smaller subcontractors hard in the residential sector.

It opens the door for this part of the sector to be subject to many of the same practices that have plagued the commercial and civil aspects of construction for decades.

This will legislate support for jump-up clauses – a measure that was previously banned under the building code due to anti-competitive behaviour.

These practices include the significant prominence of pattern bargaining and related practices that force employers to adopt union EBA pattern agreements which impose standardised conditions, rates and working arrangements.

More disputes

For the otherwise vibrant and innovative residential building sector, it simply means more disputes, higher costs, lower productivity and fewer small residential builders, tradies and specialist contractors – all in return for higher construction costs and less new homes for Australians.

This is in direct contradiction to other current Government policy priorities, including the construction of more social and community housing, and the housing accord target of 1.2 million new homes over five years.

Amendments

Alarmingly, the lower house also passed amendments to give the Fair Work Commission even more powers to rope in other businesses to the same Regulated Labour Hire Orders.

These amendments have not gone through the Senate inquiry which is still actively underway and not due to report back until February 1, next year.

The business community for months has been trying to raise concerns about elements of this legislation and their unintended consequences which has fallen on deaf ears.

The cumulative impact of this legislation on the economy will be devastating and will leave the building and construction industry hamstrung.

The passage of non-controversial elements of the legislation should not have been entangled with the rest.

Master Builders continues to strongly oppose the rest of the Bill up for consideration next year, including changes to independent contracting, union right of entry powers and casual workers.

The Buloke Times 12 December 2023

This article appeared in The Buloke Times, 12 December 2023.

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