Employers, AWU seek to stop CFMEU's expansion

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Employers, AWU seek to stop CFMEU's expansion

Major employer groups joined the Australian Workers’ Union in the federal Industrial Relations Commission this week, setting dates for their attempt to overturn a decision (AIRC decision 070/00 M Print S2640 (28th January, 2000)) allowing the construction union to expand its coverage.

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Major employer groups joined the Australian Workers’ Union in the federal Industrial Relations Commission this week, setting dates for their attempt to overturn a decision (AIRC decision 070/00 M Print S2640 (28th January, 2000)) allowing the construction union to expand its coverage.

A full bench of the AIRC, led by Vice-President Tony McIntyre, has set down five days of hearing from 14 August for the AWU and employers, led by the Australian Mines and Metals Association, to appeal against a decision by Senior Deputy President Simon Williams in January. The decision, which has been stayed pending the outcome of the appeal, extended the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union's coverage in the civil/mechanical engineering sector to include all non-trades persons.

In his decision, SDP Williams said he realised employers were concerned about the militancy and power of the CFMEU as compared to the AWU, and were especially concerned with construction union practices like campaigns to undermine the standing and reputation of the AWU, and pattern bargaining.

But, he said, pattern bargaining was not uncommon within the industry, and he could not find that pattern bargaining constituted misconduct or should prevent this application being granted.

He also realised the AWU would not be happy with the decision. But SDP Williams said that under s204 of the Workplace Relations Act 1996, it was up to the AWU to prove it could more effectively represent workers and that they 'more conveniently belonged' to the AWU.

While this could give rise to more industrial disputation, SDP Williams said the intention of the Act was to encourage competition between organisations.

The AWU’s assistant national secretary, Sam Wood, said counsel had been briefed to look at all avenues of appeal. One of these includes a claim the Commission mischaracterised the Act as positively encouraging competition between organisations. But the CFMEU’s legal officer, Tom Roberts, said he believed judgement areas were harder to appeal than legal points.

And the Australian Mines and Metals Association will be arguing that SDP Williams didn’t give proper regard to CFMEU conduct or the more conveniently belong rules, and that he had actually extended the CFMEU’s coverage further than they wanted, making it possible for them to cover workers doing ongoing maintenance after major construction projects in the resource sector were finished.

AMMA’s Ian Masson told WorkplaceInfo this week the case was 'very significant' as it was one of only a handful of cases dealt with by the Commission on changes to the Workplace Relations Act on the conveniently belong rule. He said if the decision stood, investors on large resource construction projects would have to consider the CFMEU’s track record of demarcation and disputation coming to much greater prominence in what had traditionally been a settled area of industrial relations.

The decision could give rise to confusion if the CFMEU starts seeking new federal awards covering classes of employees under the new rule.

The decision did not apply to Queensland, where the AWU historically was the strongest union, or Western Australia, where the construction union had reached agreement with the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ union. Even so, the CFMEU stands to pick up thousands of potential members in certain previous AWU strongholds like concrete batching and production, and quarrying and maintenance.

The case has been on foot for three years. Other appellants include the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and various state chambers.

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