Construction Unions Stand Up for workers’ rights during COVID-19

Eimear test O'Sullivan

Unions had a win this month standing up to employer groups who tried to use the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to water down worker entitlements in the building and construction industries.

Master Builders Australia (MBA), the Housing Industry Association (HIA) and the Australian Industry Group (AiG) applied to vary awards the key industry awards, claiming that the construction industry was severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and it was necessary to slash workers’ take home pay and entitlements.

This is despite the enormous efforts of unions and workers in the industry to incorporate hygiene and social distancing methods into their work practices that have largely kept the industry open.

Employer groups applied for authorisation to:

  • stop paying penalty rates for Saturday work
  • cut workers’ days or hours of work and minimum hours of work
  • cut redundancy;
  • force workers to perform different duties, and work in different locations; and
  • force workers to take annual leave or RDOs

The Electrical Trades Union (ETU), Construction Forestry Maritime Mining And Energy Union (CFMMEU), Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) and Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) stood firm before the Fair Work Commission in August against these outrageous demands.

The Fair Work Commission agreed with the Unions and rejected most of the employer groups’ requests, noting the impressive efforts of workers to keep the industry open with limited disruption. However, The Fair Work Commission did allow the employer groups’ request for unpaid pandemic leave and doubled annual leave paid at half rate. (These changes only affect workers who are covered by an award, not an Enterprise Agreement, and are due to expire on 30 September 2020.)

Assistant National Secretary, Michael Wright said:

“We are proud to stand up for our members and fight attempts to undercut workers’ entitlements from callous employer groups. This attack on rights was no way to reward the very workers who have kept our nation going.

“The ETU will stay vigilant throughout this pandemic and beyond. We are always willing to make sensible changes, but we make no apologies for defending core conditions or calling out opportunistic, greedy behaviour.”

“Whilst the Commission did unpaid pandemic leave and the changes to annual leave (though not on the bosses’ terms), we’ll double down and keep fighting alongside other unions to protect the rights of our members.”


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