The Hon. Rob Lucas MLC

The Hon

Rob Lucas MLC

Treasurer

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Unions already threatening action under new work safety laws

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Builders are already reporting union officials “flexing their muscles” on work sites anticipating Labor’s new work safety laws scheduled to commence on 1 January 2012.

The Master Builders Association has reported that union officials are walking onto sites unannounced stating words to the effect of “we’re just getting you ready for 1 January when we can come in whenever we like!”

The MBA cited a recent example where a union stopped work on a large project due to purported safety claims. The MBA says the safety claim related to a matter which had been independently certified by an engineer as safe and had also been independently approved by SafeWork SA.

The MBA concluded that the number of reports of breaches by union officials of right of entry laws “have increased at an alarming rate in the last two months”.

“South Australia’s existing work safety laws provide for health and safety representatives on all work sites supported by independent inspectors from SafeWork SA,” Shadow Industrial Relations Minister Rob Lucas said.

“The Labor Government has been unable to provide any evidence that giving unions extra powers to enter work sites will actually improve worker safety.”

The Cole Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry concluded that unions have misused right of entry for worker safety as an industrial weapon:

“... Occupational health and safety is often misused by unions as an industrial tool. This trivialises safety, and deflects attention away from real problems.. The scope for misuse of safety must be reduced and if possible eliminated.”

(Final Report of the Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry, volume 6, Reform-OHS, February 2003 p108)

In other evidence to the Royal Commission it was noted that:

“...it is not uncommon for a builder or a subcontractor who is in dispute with a union over an unrelated industrial issue to receive visits from union officials investigating and finding alleged safety breaches. The union official asserts than an immediate risk exists, work ceases while employees sit in the sheds or worse, leave site.”

(Final Report of the Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry, volume 6, Reform-OHS, February 2003 p103)

“It is this type of union action in other states which drives up building costs and which we don’t want to see in South Australia,” Mr Lucas said.

“Given this almost united opposition from employer groups to the model bill, the Labor Government needs to listen and consider Liberal amendments as well as delay the introduction of a bill which will not only increase housing costs but also cost jobs.”
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