Contributed from Western Australia
Anger is growing on some of western Australia’s building sites and some other workplaces.
There is the trouble at the Royal Children’s Hospital. Now it’s happening at the $1.96 billion Forrestfield airport tunnel link.
What both have in common is that there is an attempt to use cheap labour on government related projects.
At the Forrestfield job, the tender was awarded to an Italian based conglomerate called Salini-Impregilo to do it on the cheap, using what is called a Single-Enterprise Agreements (SEA), signed by just 3 workers on a site of about as hundred.
Under this, workers are paid less than half the normal wage. Management practice means that the fortnightly pay often comes late. Even some of the suppliers are not being paid when they should be. Morale on the job is at rock bottom and turnover is extremely high. Who would want to stay there?
If this is not enough, foreign workers have been brought in under even worse conditions and even denied the right to visit family on a reasonably frequent basis.
The state’s McGowan government allows the situation to go on. The Fair Work Commission does nothing about it, although there is a blatant breach of the rules which it is supposed to monitor. It seems there is nothing wrong with breaking the rules, so long as you are the employer.
From the workers’ point of view, there is a strong case for breaking the rules,through biased application that makes sure the employer enjoys protection and the worker is left high and dry. The system is stacked up the wrong way and makes it hard to get proper union representation to even up the score a bit.
When only three are allowed, to decide the fate of all and the others not given a say, something is seriously wrong and it goes against the basic concept of fair play. Something needs to be done to see justice prevail. As it stands, the Fair Work Commission is nothing more than a sick joke.
What has been going on at the Royal Children’s Hospital and Forrestfield has a familiar smell about it. This race to the bottom is spreading around Western Australia and around Australia and it shows that the exploitation of the worker is becoming more intense, because of the extent to which governments are prepared to collude in this exploitation.
The scandal must be addressed. The Fair Go Commission is no good and its abolition should be an important goal of the trade union movement.
There must also be a campaign to provide more transparency in relation to government tendering processes and the imposition of mandatory minimum acceptable standards, which includes being employed under normal conditions ans the right to have proper union representation.
This is not over yet. A battle is brewing.