Event: Denita Wawn interview with Stephen Cenatiempo, 2CC Breakfast
Date: Tuesday 15 November 2022, 7.50am AEDT
Speakers: Stephen Cenatiempo, host 2CC Breakfast, Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia
Topics: industrial relations
Stephen Cenatiempo, host 2CC Breakfast: Master Builders Australia has lodged its submission to the education and employment legislation committee inquiry into the Bill. They say the Bill must be considered with reference to current national economic conditions and the current challenges these bring to workplaces. Well, I think that’s pretty obvious. Denita Wawn is the CEO of Master Builders and joins us now. Denita, good morning.
Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia: Good morning.
Stephen: This Bill, the government would say that it basically deals with an election promise to increase wages, but I can’t see how it does that?
Denita: No, it doesn’t unfortunately. The government took a very specific industrial relations policy to the election that was quite narrow. But this legislation is extraordinarily broad. It doesn’t take into account economic conditions and goes well beyond their election mandate to the detriment of not only business but ultimately workers in the long term.
Stephen: One of the biggest concerns that I know a lot of people in your industry have is the abolition of the building and construction watchdog. What is that likely to do particularly given the proposed expansion of multi-employer bargaining?
Denita: Yeah, certainly the ABCC is part of that legislation, to abolish it. We of course oppose it. It has been something that has been a hallmark of the industry for over 30 years, that we’ve needed a specialist regulator. That’s unfortunate. We would hope that would not be the case but unfortunately, we have high levels of unlawful industrial action that impact the capacity of us to get on with the job and building for Australians. So, the abolition of that removes totally those safeguards to ensure people are doing the right thing by industrial laws. It has been the subject of four royal commissions and certainly we believe that its abolition will mean there will be a significant increase in industrial disputation on worksites in a much broader capacity. Now the government have announced that some parts of the building and construction industry are going to be exempt from multi-employer bargaining but that does not mean to say we are exempt from any of the other bargaining streams that we know is used very well by the building unions to ensure that people are roped in and forced into agreements that they don’t want to enter into – either employers or employees.
Stephen: Because I imagine large builders can probably navigate this but it’s the smaller contractors that are really going to be the victims, aren’t they?
Denita: We find unfortunately that the head contractors do have greater capacity to manage this, but it is the subcontractors around the country that are really adversely impacted by the bullying and intimidation that occurs on building sites every single day. And they are the ones that are forced into agreements now. They now have the protection of the ABCC. Activity of unlawful nature continues to occur. The CFMEU alone has been hit with nearly $17 million worth of penalties since 2016 and that’s with the ABCC in play. So, we’d hate to think what is going to occur with subcontractors. And it’s already occurring despite the fact that we are yet to see the full formal removal of the ABCC.
Stephen: Denita you’ve said that the Bill must be considered with reference to current national economic conditions and current challenges. Are you talking there about the skills shortage or is it broader than that?
Denita: It’s broader than that. We’re obviously facing huge inflationary headwinds that continues. Prices have spiralled by 20 to 30 per cent in our sector. Most of our industry is working with fixed price contracts. And so, as such, because of those price increases they are operating in virtually no or little margins and in some instances, people are now building at a loss. So, they can hardly afford a situation in which they are forced into agreements that they can’t afford in the current situation. And that means workers will be put off and building activity will slow down. And that’s our concern that this may achieve for some workers some increases in the short-term, but we know that if you push wages up with offsets in productivity benefits then ultimately inflation rises, and people lose their jobs. It’s just fundamental economics.
Stephen: Denita, given there’s already been 30 pages of amendments presented as part of this Bill, are you confident that you are being heard here?
Denita: Yes, we are. And can I say we commend the considered approach that Senator Pocock is taking to this. He is listening to all parties, and he is mindful that this has been highly rushed. In my 30 years of working in politics I have never seen such a Bill to be rushed which contains so many changes. So, we say that there are some non-contentious parts of the Bill, split those out, put those to parliament before Christmas but we need a proper, thorough analysis of these contentious areas that we know will have a significant adverse impact on the economy and that needs longer time for consideration. I mean the government introduced 150 amendments to the Bill only a day before we had to appear before the senate inquiry last Friday. And that with literally less than 24 hours’ notice to consider 150-odd amendments. So, we say split the Bill and as I said we commend Senator Pocock for his considered approach. He is mindful that this process is rushed, and he wants to see the evidence from all parties, from all sides, as to which is the best way forward for all Australians.
Stephen: Yeah, which I think makes infinite sense. Denita, I appreciate your time this morning.
Denita: Pleasure, thank you.
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