Three hundred members and supporters of the CEPU, the SA branch of the Electrical Trades Union, rallied outside the Adelaide office of the Australian Building and Construction Commission yesterday.
The ABCC is the federal government’s “tough cop on the beat”, enforcing vicious punitive sanctions against construction workers, sanctions that, until now, have applied to no other workers in the country.
When the federal government introduced legislation to revive and strengthen the ABCC on the 15th of February this year, Employment Minister Senator Michaelia Cash stood in Australian Senate and expressly stated that the ABCC Commissioner would exempt a building contractor or a building industry participant providing essential services relating to, amongst other things, the supply of electricity. This debate arose expressly in the context of enterprise bargaining at SA Power Networks (SAPN), which had initially refused to even attempt to be exempted from the Code.
Cash has now broken those assurances, with around 25% of SAPN employees in the Construction and Maintenance Services (CaMS) section placed under the ABCC. Those workers typically:
• maintain the high voltage transmission network for ElectraNet – including the repair of transmission towers following storms;
• rollout the National Broadband Network; and
• exend the electricity grid to new property developments.
Applying the ABCC Code to SA Power Networks directly threatens the employment security of over two thousand secure jobs in South Australia. The Code strips away long held rights and will permit the industry to be flooded with cheap labour in a race to the bottom.
It means that any future EBA must be “code compliant” and would ensure that around 36 clauses of SAPN workers’ current agreement would be illegal. Some of these clauses include consultation, hours of work, safety, wage parity with contractors and labour hire, and protection of union members and delegates.
In trashing the assurances she gave re exemptions from the ABCC for emergency services workers, Cash is showing the government’s determination to bring more and more workers under draconian anti-union provisions. This was well understood by representatives of other unions attending the rally, some of whom spoke of moves to strip wages and conditions from enterprise agreements and have them transferred to “policy”, that is, to have them subject to management prerogative and liable to change at the employers’ whim.
Although the SAPN decision will be reviewed by the Federal Court on September 25, ETU National Secretary Allen Hicks told the rally that the things that unions have fought for and won have rarely come through the courts.
“Rather, they have come because workers have done what you’re doing: taking to the streets, standing up and showing you’re willing to fight,” he said.
The rally ended with chants of “When workers’ rights are under attack – Stand up! Fight back!”