Construction workers fight award stripping

Issue 

BY SAM WAINWRIGHT

SYDNEY — On March 6 Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) members employed on NSW construction sites went out on strike for 48 hours. They are defending a range of conditions that will be removed from their award under the terms of the Workplace Relations Act 1996.

According to the act, when an award comes up for review it must be stripped back to 20 "allowable matters". This will remove from the National Metal & Engineering On-Site Construction Industry Award a number of conditions. AMWU organiser Mark Dal Molin explained to Green Left Weekly that workers at smaller workplaces could lose out very quickly.

Asbestos eradication procedure, including the provision of safety equipment, lapses from the award because it is covered by the state workplace safety laws. But removing this from the award takes away the right of unions to force compliance, leaving workers reliant on under-resourced government safety officers.

Under the current award a union representative is allowed immediate access to a workplace to deal with safety issues and other pressing matters. Following the "simplification", union representatives will only be allowed to meet members during their meal breaks and must give the employer 24 hours notice.

Other award provisions that will go include: the ratio of apprentices to trades; union access to roster and pay book information; first aid equipment; shop stewards' rights; and consultation with unions.

The AMWU is trying to secure a multi-employer agreement to preserve such conditions in an agreement between the union and the employer federation the Australian Industry Group (AIG). The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) managed to secure a number of conditions this way.

So far the AIG has refused to consider a multi-employer agreement. It seems it has taken the stance without consulting many of the employers and the AMWU is prepared to take more action to created the pressure for a change in position. Dal Molin said, "I imagine there'll be an escalation on industrial disputation. We're not going to let hard won conditions go down the gurgler."

From Green Left Weekly, March 13, 2002.

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