The Australian Workers’ Union will fight any attempt by the construction industry to slash hours of work and penalty rates under the guise of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The AWU has warned every construction worker in the country could be affected by the far-sweeping changes being proposed by a consortium of industry leaders.
In what is an extremely disappointing move away from the cooperative spirit seen during the coronavirus crisis, the Master Builders Australia, the Australian Industry Group and the Housing Industry Association are attempting to allow employers to dramatically reduce working hours, lower Saturday penalty rates and cut back casual shifts to a minimum of just two hours.
The proposed changes to industry awards would stay in place until the end of the year and could be seized upon by employers to seek permanent changes.
Daniel Walton, National Secretary of the AWU, said: “The AWU worked tirelessly to protect construction jobs across Australian during the COVID-19 pandemic by keeping our industry open. We will not sit back and let big business decimate the safety net conditions of hundreds of thousands of hard-working Australians.
“These are difficult times for the construction industry but there is no justification for these far reaching changes which could easily outlast the pandemic. It’s nothing more than a cynical attempt to take advantage of the COVID-19 crisis. Australian workers will see this opportunistic grab for conditions for what it is.”
The AWU and the Master Builders Australia worked together to save the construction industry from closing down by lobbying for workers to be deemed essential.
Now the MBA and other employers are attempting to push through radical changes to the safety net for the whole construction industry, including allowing employers to unilaterally reduce hours of work, the extension of ordinary working hours to include Saturdays from 6am to 2pm, and casual shift minimums could drop to two hours from four hour. Workers can also be directed to take annual leave until they are left with a balance of just two weeks.
Remarkably, the changes would provide employers who are not eligible to participate in the JobKeeper scheme – because they have not suffered the required 30% or 50% revenue reduction – with more flexibility than employers who have suffered significant reductions in business activity The changes would also apply until 31 December 2020 whereas the JobKeeper FW Act changes end on 28 September 2020.
Mr Walton added: “There have already been significant concessions to employers all over Australia because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Union members acted in good faith due to the unprecedented nature of this crisis and it’s hugely disappointing to see the spirit of co-operation disappear so quickly.
“Our members who work on our roads, tunnels, bridges and key infrastructure projects, will prove pivotal in rebuilding Australia and we should be rewarding them, not penalising them at this time.”
The matter will be heard before the FWC on July 8th and July 9th.