Master Builders Australia says more than 400,000 small builders and tradies are suffering “a severe cost and cashflow crunch” and it is urging the major parties to make an economic plan for the flailing construction industry.
“We know from our polling of 40 marginal seats across the country that builders and tradies want a plan for economic recovery and are strongly opposed to policies that will put economic recovery at risk,” chief executive of Master Builders Australia Denita Wawn says.
“For them it is not about wage increases because they don’t get a wage. The money they are able to draw from their business depends entirely on how well their business is going.
“That’s why they want a plan for economic recovery above all.”
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Among the contested policies Wawn names is binning the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) — Wawn is calling for Labor to rethink a plan to abolish the construction watchdog.
“The campaign also calls on the major parties to scrap policies that will put the economic recovery at risk, such as Labor’s plan to abolish the construction watchdog, the ABCC,” she says.
“We know from our polling of tradies and soft voters in marginal seats that they see militant construction unions and rogue officials as a threat to economic recovery which is why they want Labor to keep the construction industry watchdog.”
Binning the watchdog would be “committing economic self-harm”, she continues, saying “Labor’s policy will leave more than 400,000 small mum and dad builders and tradies exposed to union thugs and bullies”.
“If Labor is serious about being business-friendly, then it can’t abolish the watchdog which makes sure everyone in the construction industry plays by the rules.”
Master Builders Australia commissioned an analysis of 40 marginal seats by Laidlaw Campaigns & Counsel which showed public support for the watchdog.
But Labor Leader Anthony Albanese says since its re-establishment in 2016 under a Liberal-National government, the ABCC “relentlessly pursues union officials over minor infractions while doing little to stamp out wage theft or sham contracting in the construction industry or to address worksite safety and deaths”.
He continues that building and construction workers “should have the same rights as other workers”, with a key part of his industrial relations changes to compel businesses to put contract workers on permanently after two years and give casual workers annual leave.
Albanese said the policies were aimed at helping almost a third of workers in jobs with varying hours and pay, with “few or no protections”.
The ABCC has long been accused of lacking a sensible centre and exercising draconian secret police powers.
Under the Howard government’s ABCC, there was no right to silence — the commission possessed national security-style powers to prevent a witness from revealing he or she had been interrogated by the commission.
But Industrial Relations Minister Michaelia Cash claimed Albanese was binning the ABCC under the scrutiny of the powerful Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU).
Just last week, the ABCC launched landmark legal action against the CFMEU, pursuing penalties for alleged death threats made against two workers who tried to cross a union picket in Western Australia.
In the statement of claim, the ABCC alleged union site delegate Jason Gill made death threats in August last year after 30 picketers gathered outside the Kwinana’s Bulk Jetty at the port of Freemantle.
The ABCC alleges Gill stood close to a worker heckling him and said “you’ll end up dead if you keep going like this”.
Construction is the fourth largest direct employer in the country, with 1.16 million Australians working in the industry as of February, according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Albanese is in Queensland at the moment, hoping to win back seats in the blue collar heartland crucial to a May election victory — at the last election, Labor won just six of Queensland’s 30 federal seats.
“We must rediscover the spirit of consensus that former Labor prime minister Bob Hawke used to bring together governments, trade unions, businesses and civil society around their shared aims of growth and job creation,” Albanese said earlier this month.