AWU defeats construction industry’s attempt to cut hours and scrap Saturday penalty rates

The Australian Workers’ Union has defeated the construction industry’s cynical bid to cut hours and scrap Saturday penalty rates.

The AWU has secured a victory which saw the Fair Work Commission reject proposals from the Master Builders Association, the Housing Industry Association and Australian Industry Group.

“This was a cynical attempt to use a global pandemic as cover to slash working conditions in civil construction and thankfully the Commission has seen right through it,” said Daniel Walton, National Secretary of the AWU.

“Hopefully this decision will give these employer groups a little chance to reflect on how out of step their agenda is with community expectations. I’m sure hatching sneaky plans to slash working conditions earns you big slaps on the back in certain circles, but the community has no appetite for driving down workers’ pay to boost profits right now.

The AWU has always been open to dealing constructively and cooperatively with employers when they genuinely face crisis. But we will always stand up to cynical employers who want to use crisis as cover to hurt working people.”

The construction industry had been pushing for a new working week of 38 hours between 6am and 7pm Monday to Friday, and 6am and 2pm on Saturdays.

They also applied to change the award to reduce the minimum casual shifts from four hours to two and for workers to be directed to take annual leave if they had built up more than two weeks. Employers would also have been given the right to cut workers’ hours if they could not be usefully employed.

Mr Walton added: “The industry claimed this would just be a temporary measure to get them through the pandemic but there is no doubt that this was a ‘stalking horse’ attempt to deliver long term changes to our members’ awards rates.

“Workers in the construction industry have gone above and beyond to keep the industry open through COVID-19 and we should be rewarding them, not trying to take away their hard earned rights.”

The AWU argued that the industry had overplayed the downturn in the construction sector and that that a pipeline of major construction projects announced by both state and federal governments would keep hundreds of thousands of workers employed both in the short, medium and long term.

In the ruling handed down to the industry, the FWC noted that the proposed changes would not ‘have any beneficial results for employment growth, inflation, and the sustainability, performance and competitiveness of the national economy’.

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