Construction Industry Slams Fair Work Changes

construction workers meeting

Image Source: Associated Contractors of America

A key building and construction industry lobby group in Australia has called on the federal government to reassess its second tranche of changes to the Fair Work Act.

In its submission regarding the Bill to the House Standing Committee on Education and Employment, Master Builders Australia has called on the government to conduct a Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) to assess the costs of a range of changes outlined in the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2013, particularly regarding costs expected to be borne by small business.

Master Builders chief executive officer Wilhelm Harnisch says the Bill has significant cost implications for the building and construction industry.

He says it is ‘grossly unacceptable’ for the government to ignore the cost implications for business and to wait for the May budget to announce the Bill’s cost implications for taxpayers.

“This Bill will have significant cost implications for the building and construction industry and Government funding for the Fair Work Commission and possibly other agencies,” Harnisch says.

“The Bill must not be rushed through Parliament. It needs proper debate so the implications for business and the Government are fully examined. A Regulation Impact Statement must form a crucial part of the debate, otherwise the Bill must be deferred.”

Harnisch adds that the building industry “rejects changes to legislation which increase the operating costs for businesses without at least providing an associated productivity offset.”

Introduced partly in response to changes recommended by the Fair Work Review Panel, which conducted a review of the Act to see if it was working as intended last year, the Bill introduces new measures which are said to be aimed at making workplaces more family friendly, including rights for pregnant women to transfer to safer jobs, rights to request flexible work arrangements, more flexibility over parental leave and greater protection over penalty rates, work hours and rosters.

Wilhelm Harnisch at CAMS launch

Wilhelm Harnisch. Image Credit: Master Builders Autsralia

The Bill also includes a definition of workplace bullying, allows workers who have been bullied at work to apply to the Fair Work Commission for an order to stop the bullying and sets out a number of changes to right of entry provisions.

While the Bill has been welcomed by unions on the basis of it supporting workers and families, it has largely been rejected by employer groups, who say it gives more power to workers and unions while ignoring issues of concern to business.

Harnisch says Master Builders is concerned about the bullying changes, which he says will create enormous compliance headaches for construction industry employers.

“Under the proposed bullying provisions, employers will have to implement new compliance systems to ensure they demonstrate reasonable management action has taken place and that it was applied in a reasonable manner. Otherwise, they could be open to an expensive bullying complaint while completing genuine management actions,” he says.

“Implementing new compliance processes is costly and diverts valuable resources from an employer’s core business of building infrastructure, generating jobs and contributing to the economy.”

Harnisch also says without a proper screening process to validate potential bullying claims, the Bill could encourage a large number of spurious claims, including some from disgruntled workers seeking ‘go away’ money in the case of employment exit.

“As an example, WorkSafe Victoria received more than 6,000 bullying complaints in a year, following a precedent-setting OHS prosecution in 2010,” he says.

“The Fair Work Commission can expect a much higher number of complaints following the implementation of this Bill.”

By Andrew Heaton
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