ABCC: CFMEU warns bill could invalidate some workplace agreements

The construction union is ramping up its attack of the Coalition's industrial relations bills, arguing some companies could be blacklisted from Commonwealth construction contracts because parts of the legislation would be backdated — a claim the Government denies.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has threatened a double dissolution election on July 2 if the Senate fails to pass bills to reinstate construction watchdog, the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) alleges that if passed, the ABCC bills will invalidate some workplace agreements.

The bills include a code for employment contracts on construction sites, the Building and Construction Industry (Fair and Lawful Building Sites) Code 2014.

CFMEU national construction secretary Dave Noonan said the code, of which a draft has been released, is an attack on workers.

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"This is, if you like, the Government's template for a return to WorkChoices-style laws," Mr Noonan said.

He pointed to clause 11 of the code, which prohibits certain content being placed in agreements.

"The code says, for example, workers can't have an agreement with any limitations on casualisation of their workplace," Mr Noonan said.

"The code says it would be illegal for an agreement to require an employer to have a ratio of apprentices to tradespeople — that's been common in the industry on the basis of people wanting to promote apprenticeship opportunities for young Australians.

"The code would provide that there can't be any restriction on hiring workers on temporary overseas work visas — some agreements would have a provision to say that the employer should seek workers locally before they go overseas looking for temporary workers."

Retrospective nature of code concerning: CFMEU

These are suggestions the Federal Employment Minister Michaelia Cash objected to.

"The CFMEU is being extremely selective and misleading in relation to clause 11 of the building code," Senator Cash said.

"The CFMEU is wilfully misrepresenting these provisions of the code."

The code was drafted in such a way to prevent practices that were dubbed inefficient or uncompetitive being included in workplace agreements.

Another section of the code stated it would apply to enterprise agreements made after April 24, 2014.

Mr Noonan described it as Mr Turnbull's "vision splendid" for the industry, and the retrospective nature of the code was concerning.

He alleged government agencies were already threatening companies over the backdating of the code, warning them they would be in breach once the laws had passed.

"I'd always understood that the Liberal side of politics abhorred retrospective legislation, but here they seem to be prepared to throw that principle on the rubbish heap, as part of an attack on workers' conditions," Mr Noonan said.

"There are companies that have reached agreements with their workforces, with the union, which are perfectly legal, which comply with the Fair Work Act, which arguably would not comply with this legislation.

"This is a direct threat of blacklisting to many Australian businesses and their workers."

No provisions of code will operate retrospectively: Cash

Ms Cash responded to the claims, arguing the code was never retrospective.

The code was released early to give business advance notice of future arrangements.

Contractors covered by agreements that were made after April 24, 2014, which do not comply with the code's requirements for workplace agreements, would not be eligible to be awarded Commonwealth-funded building work.

The code will only apply to projects that are subject to tenders or expressions of interest from the time that it commences.

The existing code will continue to operate on projects on foot at the time the new code formally comes into effect.

Source: ABC News

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