Wednesday, December 4, 2002

WA building workers win 36-hour week

Chris Latham
On November 22, members of the Western Australian branch of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union's construction and general divisions began the process of implementing of a new enterprise agreement.

The agreement includes a 36-hour week for construction workers, based on the introduction of increased rostered days off over the next three years (five days in first year, nine in the second and 13 in the final year).

Other gains include: a 12% pay rise over the next three years; travel allowances increased to $22.50 a day; weekly superannuation payments of $95 in the first year, $100 in the second and $110 in the final year; redundancy payments increased to $70 a week; a 150% increase in trauma insurance payouts for death or permanent incapacitation, from $100,000 to $350,000 (in addition to any workers compensation payments); and a 10% increase in site allowances.

The agreement has been signed by WA's eight largest construction contractors and 40 subcontractors, with 100 subcontractors likely to sign on in the next two weeks, resulting in 6000 CFMEU members (90% of the union's WA membership) in Perth being covered by the agreement.

The CFMEU is committed to winning the extension of the agreement to all members, CFMEU construction division secretary Kevin Reynolds told Green Left Weekly. “We will seek protected action and take all forms of bans, limitations and strike action against the companies that haven't signed”, he said. The CFMEU has not signed an agreement with notorious anti-union millionaire Len Buckridge. However, the union will sign up the subcontractors used by Buckridge.

Reynolds told Green Left Weekly that the ability of the CFMEU to make significant gains for its members without having to take industrial action reflected the union's strength in Western Australia and Victoria. “The builders saw what can happen when they take us on, in Victoria three years ago. The builders there made a decision that they were not going to go through hell again. The major contractors in Western Australia are the same contractors who operate in Victoria and they knew what they were in for. Therefore, they made a commercial decision and decided it would be cheaper to settle with the union without a brawl, than to have a punch-up.”

Reynolds added that “on this occasion it suited us to negotiate ... as it demonstrates to everyone that the unions and the employers, left to negotiate things, can sort out their problems ... without any interference from governments or royal commissions”.

In recent weeks in Perth, there have been two deaths on building sites. Reynolds blamed the deaths on intransigent employers who refuse to work with unions. Unionised companies are more likely to enforce safety regulations.

However, Reynolds pointed out that when the same companies operate in places where the CFMEU is not strong, their health and safety records are significantly worse.

“We hope for the day that contractors who kill workers face manslaughter charges”, Reynolds told Green Left Weekly.

Originally published in Green Left Weekly


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