Master Builders Australia (MBA) has urged Safe Work Australia to
initiate urgent reforms to stop the abuse of the union’s right of entry laws
within the construction industry.
Master Builders’ submission to Safe Work Australia ahead of the national
safety regulator’s review of model workplace health and safety (WHS) laws spells
out the proposed reforms and its concerns.
CEO Wilhelm Harnisch explains that Master Builders is concerned about building
unions undermining the improving safety culture of the construction industry by
abusing right of entry on spurious safety grounds.
Evidence emerging from Fair Work Building and Construction (FWBC)
investigations and testimony before the Royal Commission into Trade Union
Governance and Corruption indicates that building union officials are using
contrived safety concerns to gain access to construction sites in pursuit of
industrial agendas unrelated to safety.
Describing the behaviour as ‘industrial thuggery’, Wilhelm Harnisch said
that it disqualifies building union officials from gaining right of entry
permits from the Fair Work Commission (FWC) because they will fail even the
current fit and proper person test.
He expressed Master Builders’ concerns that union officials without
valid right of entry permits issued by the FWC are hijacking the WHS right of
entry to overcome federal workplace laws to campaign on issues that in reality are
far removed from safety.
Master Builders has made fourteen recommendations for changes to the WHS
laws to ensure right of entry operates fairly.
Some of the suggestions include the need for union officials exercising
right of entry powers for WHS reasons to also hold approved nationally
recognised WHS qualifications under the Australian Qualifications Framework
System such as Certificate IV in Workplace Health and Safety. Master Builders
also recommends that model WHS laws should be amended in all jurisdictions to
require all WHS right of entry permit holders to give at least 24 hours’ notice
before entering a worksite to inquire into a suspected safety breach.
Wilhelm Harnisch cites the example of Queensland where this reform was
introduced earlier this year and which has helped to curb abuse of WHS right of
entry by unions.
He adds that Safe Work Australia’s Work-Related Traumatic Fatalities,
Australia 2014 Report shows significant safety improvements have been achieved
in the construction industry; these important gains and the safety of workers
and contractors should not be compromised by union officials using safety as an
industrial weapon to pursue their own agendas.