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Urgent action needed to protect ACT’s ‘second class workers’, CFMEU says

Urgent government action is needed to prevent insecure work practices creating a pool of “second class” employees in the ACT, the main construction union says.

In a submission to the ACT government’s insecure work inquiry, the CFMEU said labour hire arrangements were eroding full time jobs in the construction industry.

CFMEU ACT secretary Dean Hall fronted the inquiry on Thursday, calling for a new licensing scheme to regulate all labour hire firms within the territory.

“Everything that has been said before about insecure work is taking place in the construction industry, but we have some unique examples that have grown over the last two decades,” he said.

“Traditional labour hire companies are morphing into something that’s more about minimising liabilities to employees when they are employed.”

Insecure work, or non-ongoing employment, refers to the use of casual or temporary working arrangements such as the use of contractors or labour hire staff.

Mr Hall’s comments contrasted with those of Master Builders ACT, who last week told the same inquiry that insecure work had a minor impact on the booming building and construction industries. 

“For the construction industry in particular, at the moment the majority of employees in the industry receive well above award rates,” chief executive Michael Hopkins said.

“Current laws are adequate to ensure secure work is provided in the ACT.”

The CFMEU’s submission to the government’s employment committee also called for the adoption of a labour hire licensing scheme to protect temporary and part-time construction workers.

“Licensing would allow for government oversight, for people to be held accountable,” Mr Hall said in Thursday’s hearing.

“It’s like anything  – why do we license plumbers and electricians. It would ensure that if they do things like phoenix or they don’t pay people, or they have poor safety, then we can hold them to account.”

The Canberra Business Chamber disagreed, with chief executive Robyn Hendry telling the inquiry that regulation of employment practices should continue to be a federal government responsibility.

Not all temporary or part-time working arrangements were necessarily negative or insecure, Ms Hendry added.

“The chamber believes the broad brush ‘insecure employment’ term fails to reflect the changing and dynamic nature of work,” she said.

“It also fails to recognise the real and important desires of employees who may not wish to undertake full-time employment, or those employees who would prefer some work, rather than no work.

“Employees, for a variety of reasons including family responsibilities or study, may wish to engage in flexible employment relationships.” 

Last week the Community and Public Sector Union outlined the extent of public sector job insecurity in the ACT, with approximately 23.3 per cent of territory public servants believed to employed on a non-ongoing basis.

Indigenous employees, staff with disabilities and female staff were among the groups most affected, the CPSU said.

The employment committee is due to present its report into insecure working arrangements by the end of October.

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