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CFMEU claim starts push for a 36-hour week

THE Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union’s WA branch has fired the first shot in the battle to get the 36-hour week in WA.

Industrial experts say the ‘log of claims’ sent to construction firms and business organisations by CFMEU State secretary Kevin Reynolds is likely to form the basis of the union’s next EBA, to replace the current agreement which is open for renegotiation from today (October 31).

However, while the new EBA would not come into effect immediately, the union is pushing for a 36-hour week from January 1.

Unions WA secretary Stephanie Mayman said unions across Australia were making a push for a 36-hour working week.

“This is the first time a claim for the 36-hour week has been made in WA, however I have no doubt other industries will follow,” she said.

Chamber of Commerce and Industry director employee relations Bruce Williams said it was unlikely that all industry sectors would be on a 36-hour week.

“I think a 36-hour week across all sectors is just wishful thinking on Unions WA’s part,” he said.

“It’s only unions such as the CFMEU that are irresponsible enough to push for these sort of claims.”

Combined Small Business Alliance CEO Oliver Moon said it was highly unlikely the 36-hour week would be implemented across all industries.

“The arguments for the 38-hour week, that it would give increased leisure time were been shot down long ago. People are still working 40-hour weeks,” he said.

“However, in the construction sector it will be the small businesses that will bear the brunt of this. It is the small subcontractors who are bullied into signing EBAs like this and the principal contractor rarely covers the costs they face when they do so.”

In addition to the 36-hour week claim the CFMEU is seeking a 15 per cent pay rise. If the shorter week kicks in it will effectively add a further 5 per cent to that.

The lowest level builders’ labourer will be on $57,000 a year, before overtime, redundancy and superannuation rates are added.

By comparison, a public sector registered nurse with a nursing degree and six years’ experience will receive $55,732 a year, including shift penalties.

Employers in the building sector must pay a daily $9.20 travel allowance, and if the worker is engaged in a CBD project the employer must also pay a $12 car parking allowance. That car parking allowance will increase to $14 in 2004. The union also calls for 16 weeks’ paid parental leave.

According to the log of claims, the principal contractor will be required to dismiss a subcontractor if that subcontractor breaches the ‘all-in payments’ or ‘pyramid subcontracting’ clauses of the EBA three times.

Employers are required to supply workers with appropriate clothing and footwear, including t-shirts and long sleeve shirts. If the union so decides, the employer must also pay to have the shirts “emblazoned with the union’s logo”.

In the log of claims the CFMEU requires that its representatives be granted unlimited access to a site for the purpose of “organising, inspecting, making enquiries, holding discussions with employees as the authorised representative sees fit, or investigating any suspected breach of this agreement … and will not be required to give any period of notice before exercising the right of entry”.

In the Federal IR sphere unions are required to give 24 hours’ notice. Under WA’s new laws the right of entry notice period depends on what is specified in the relevant award.

In a letter attached to the log of claims Mr Reynolds says the agreement is a standard agreement.

“The CFMEU reserves the right to include additional special pro-visions and/or allowances depending on the nature of your business,” he says.

If ratified by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission the EBA will take the form of a certified union agreement under the Federal system.

A Federal agreement will override a State agreement and any company that signs onto the CFMEU EBA will be locked into that for at least three years. There is no ability for a business that is a signatory to the EBA to later seek a non-union certified agreement under the Federal system while the EBA is in operation.

A bargaining period will commence once the agreement is lodged with the Australian Industrial Relations Commission.

Minter Ellison partner Bruno Di Girolami said that, during the bargaining period, the CFMEU would be allowed to take “protected” industrial action.

Master Builders Association industrial relations manager Kim Richardson said that if the log of claims became the EBA it would open the price gap between top-tier and mid-tier building projects.

“Once the project is below $10 million, the builders won’t be able to handle these labour costs,” he said. “It will squeeze the big builders out of the smaller end of the market jobs.

“This suggested EBA is a cost increase of 25 per cent on the current one and that is 20

per cent ahead of market rates.”

Mr Di Girolami said some of the points in the CFMEU’s log of claims, such as the right of entry, were likely to run foul of Federal freedom of association provisions.

“The suggestion that the principal contractor bans sub-contractors that do not have certified agreements or industrial agreements from the site could be a breach of freedom of association. Also, the bargaining agents pro-vision could cause problems, although the law on that is unclear,” he said.

The log of claims calls for all employees to pay $500 to the CFMEU each year. It also calls for the employer to provide a direct debit facility to pay the bargaining agent’s fee if the employee requests it.

Mr Williams branded the bargaining agent’s fee “defacto compulsory unionism”.

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