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State of excitement on IR laws

A COLD war is simmering on WA construction sites as unions and builders wait for the WA Government’s new industrial relations legislation.

The new laws are expected to be in place by the end of the year.

Besides repealing the Workplace Agreements Act, Labor has promised to repeal the second and third waves of industrial change brought in by the Court Government.

At a recent luncheon hosted by law firm Jackson McDonald, Consumer Affairs and Employment Protection Minister John Kobelke said the changes would bring WA’s right of entry laws closer to those in the federal system and remove secret ballots.

Right of entry is a particular concern for the building industry but applies to other workplaces.

Under the federal right-of-access system unions have to give employers 24 hours’ notice of a visit and their reason for the visit. They can only visit workplaces that employ members of their union and their visit is not allowed to disrupt work. Union meetings can only be held in non-work periods such as meal breaks.

The federal right of entry provisions are tougher than those enshrined in WA legislation. For example, there is no 24 hours’ notice provision in WA law.

The different state and federal right-of-entry provisions have created confusion around building sites. Union officials can walk onto sites if their members are working there under a state Award, even if the majority of workers on site are covered by a federal Award.

However, Mr Kobelke only confirmed that his Government’s legislation included the 24-hour notice period. He said the remaining details of that part of the draft legislation were yet to be determined.

BGC Construction general manager Gerry Forde said anarchy would result if unions only had to give 24 hours’ notice before a visit.

“If they have to give a reason for their visit as well I wouldn’t have a problem with it,” Mr Forde said.

Builders fear loosening right-of-entry laws will create anarchy on WA construction sites.

Sites were hit by union action in February after Labor won the State election. Since then an uneasy calm has settled over building sites, with just a few flare ups reported, such as strike action on Doric Construction sites at the Burswood Resort Casino and at Southdown Construction’s East Perth site.

Both actions appear to be aimed at forcing the building companies to sign Enterprise Bargaining Agreements.

Some builders say this a campaign aimed at bringing back compulsory unionism to WA workplaces.

They do not believe the Building Industry Special Projects Inspectorate, set up to replace the Building Industry Taskforce, will protect them against unlawful union activity.

Master Builders Association executive director Michael Maclean said the inspectorate offered little deterrent to disruptive union activity because it was reluctant to prosecute unlawful actions.

Controversial CFMEU assistant secretary Joe McDonald has continued to visit sites even though his right-of-entry permit was removed by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission.

However, the commission only removed Mr McDonald’s permit to enter sites working under a federal Award.

Mr McDonald said he hoped the Government would remove right of access restrictions so union officials could “properly service their members”.

He described the current industrial relations climate as tense.

“There are still some rednecks out there,” Mr McDonald said.

“But for us it’s still business as usual.”

Mr Forde said BGC would take the Government to court if it thought the new legislation was too damaging to its business.

Builders are particularly upset by the WA Government’s plan to allow just 10 days’ public comment on its new industrial relations legislation.

Mr Maclean said the MBA would welcome the opportunity to comment.

“The Government is certainly condensing the consultation period,” he said.

“I just hope our submissions will be considered.”

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