Mitchell shows no fear of unions

WHILE both new Master Builders Association president John Mitchell and prominent builder Len Buckeridge share similar ideals, one has become a household name while the other has remained relatively obscure.

That is not to say Mr Mitchell’s methods of getting the job done are very different.

He, like Mr Buckeridge, will not back away from a showdown with the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union.

Both men are of similar vintage and have stood against the building unions, particularly during the militant years of the 1970s.

The close friends still offer to help each other out when they consider the unions have stepped over the boundary.

It is not that Mr Mitchell dislikes the CFMEU, it is more that he believes the tactics it employs are unreasonable. He does not stand for work disruptions on his sites.

Mr Mitchell is proud of his success in his dealings with unions.

“I’ve always fought against the unions and won,” Mr Mitchell said.

He said the tide began to turn about five years ago.

“People started to realise they had had enough of the unions,” Mr Mitchell said.

Universal Constructions, which has been in the Mitchell family since its inception by the late McKenzie Mitchell, was the first construction company operating in the CBD that stood up to the unions.

Under Mr Mitchell’s direction, Universal has moved from a company with an annual turnover of $500,000 to more than $30 million today.

However, it was his father who set the stamp on the construction firm and the family’s role in shaping the WA building industry.

After completing his leaving at the old Hale School in West Perth, his father taught Mr Mitchell everything there was to know about building.

This was in the days when a builder did everything from bricklaying and electrical to plumbing work, he explained.

Mr Mitchell said, while the role of builders had changed to more coordination and facilitation, his basic training had held him in good stead.

“You must also make sure you have strong staff that will stand up to the unions – and never have shop stewards on your workforce.”

Mr Mitchell said ensuring control of the business also meant restricting the size of the company.

“I only want a certain turnover each year so I can keep control of the business,” he said.

Communication skills are also a must to be successful, he said.

There is no talk of retiring for the sixty-three year old.

Like Mr Buckeridge, he has no family successor to take over the business, so what will happen when Mr Mitchell does decide to call it a day is anyone’s guess.

Mr Mitchell prefers to live in the present.

“There is no doubt that it is a stressful business but it gets into your blood. If a builder leaves the industry they would be dying to get back into it,” he said.

In his role as MBA president, Mr Mitchell sees his greatest challenge as being the education of its members towards the new tax laws, in particular the GST.

In the longer term, Mr Mitchell believes the GST will not be a bad thing for the industry. However, an immediate problem is in finding enough workers to fill the demand induced by the impending GST.

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