Cole report - Northern Territory

News

Cole report - Northern Territory

Cole report - Northern Territory

WantToReadMore

Get unlimited access to all of our content.

 

The building and construction industry in the Northern Territory is, generally speaking, conducted in a manner which conforms to the requirements of the Workplace Relations Act 1996 (C’wth) and the general law. In particular, the principle of freedom of association is respected, bargaining between employers and employees adheres to the norms established by the Act, and right of entry preconditions are observed.
 
The National Construction Code and the Guidelines for its implementation have been applied successfully to two major Commonwealth Government projects in the Territory. Their application has not been productive of industrial unrest of the kind which has been apprehended elsewhere in the country.
 
The relatively few incidents which the Commission encountered and which involve unlawful or inappropriate conduct are not typical and do not detract from this generally positive finding.
 
Various reasons have been suggested to explain the significant differences which exist between the industry as it operates in the Northern Territory and elsewhere in Australia. These reasons include the rugged individualism of the workers, their preference to be independent contractors or employees working under Australian Workplace Agreements, the limited presence of union officials, a transient workforce, and a greater willingness on the part of employers and workers to resolve differences through discussion.
 
The result has been an absence of industrial disputation and industrial action. A notable example was provided by the Alice Springs to Darwin Railway. At the time of the Commission’s hearings some 2.3 million man hours had been worked without any time lost because of industrial action. The project was proceeding ahead of schedule. Lost time injuries were one tenth the national average.
 
A high percentage (approximately 30 per cent) of the Territory’s workforce which is engaged in the industry is made up of individual contractors. The industry in the Northern Territory functions productively and, with few exceptions, consistently with legal requirements.
 
Inappropriate conduct
 
In addition, there was evidence of a limited number of other categories of conduct that are in my view inappropriate. Some of the conduct in those categories is unlawful in some circumstances but not in others, often because of deficiencies in the relevant law. These deficiencies are addressed by recommendations. Other conduct in these categories is not at present unlawful, although I have recommended that some of it be made unlawful, and that the remainder be discouraged in other ways.
 
Categories of conduct which were identified by the Commission in the building and construction industry in Northern Territory, and which I regard as inappropriate, include:
(a) failure to observe occupational health and safety standards;
 
(b) the preparedness of a head contractor to suggest that, as a pre-condition to the awarding of a subcontract, a union would need to be satisfied about union membership, and the power and ability of a union to influence a head contractor to suggest such a pre-condition to the awarding of a major subcontract;
 
(c) the power and ability of a union and a union organiser to request union membership for some employees of a subcontractor to assist with the awarding of a sub-contract and the preparedness of a subcontractor to accede to such a suggestion and to make payment for union membership for its employees in order to gain union support for the award of a contract; and
 
(d) a requirement by a client that there be an EBA with a union before a major construction contract would be awarded.
Post details