Front page news of picketing outside a Melbourne
treatment plant is a reminder of the challenges to delivering
successful construction projects. At a time when the construction
sector is under the regulatory and political spotlight, it will
require more than just getting the right contracts in place and
focussing on planning, mitigation and compliance will be worth the
Many people are now asking how to get on with the business of
building in an industrial relations climate which has seen:
The Federal Court granted an injunction against the AMWU this
week following dramatic images of local construction workers
blockading a West Werribee treatment plant while helicopters were
being used to fly workers onto the site.
Police, construction workers and union members clashing a few
months ago in the heart of Melbourne's CBD at Grocon's Myer
The Victorian Government late last year excluding one of this
nation's largest builders, Lend Lease, from participation in
Victorian Government work due to non-compliance with the
Implementation Guidelines to the Victorian Code of Practice for the
Building and Construction Industry.
The Implementation Guidelines to the Victorian Code of Practice
for the Building and Construction Industry revised in December 2012
and Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten MP issue a new code
of practice for the building and construction industry in January
2013. The industry needs to navigate and satisfy both codes (with
each stating it takes precedence over the other) while the debate
and challenge surrounding perceived conflicts and inconsistencies
between the two continues.
With such high profile events it's no surprise that
industrial relations is well and truly on the agenda and the sector
is under greater regulatory and political scrutiny.
Add to this the looming State and Federal elections and it is
fair to say the path ahead for construction will be anything but
clear – and has every chance of changing again.
The recent spate of disputes illustrates that it is never going
to be as simple as your construction contract neatly allocating
risk to one party or another. Ultimately any interruption to work
– whatever the cause – challenges the successful
delivery of projects, business requirements and, more often than
not, the common objectives of industry participants. An inability
to participate in the key industry sectors such as government
projects has even more fundamental implications for your
Although no one can predict what the future holds, there are
things you can be doing now to help navigate the uncertain waters
* Knowledge is power - revisit the
risk allocation in your current contracts – how are you
allocating responsibility for industrial relations and the effects
of industrial related disputation and disruption (not all issues
and knock-on effects will be neatly addressed in an
"industrial relations" clause).
* Plan – as they say, you cannot
always prevent an accident, but you can take steps to mitigate the
risk or be ready to manage the damage. This includes:
* early warnings – communication channels must be
open; ensure reporting is transparent, systematic and sufficiently
* understanding - do you understand the risk areas and
behaviours on your projects; and
* plans - do contractors and subcontractors have
suitable and effective industrial relations plans in place or are
they sitting in the bottom drawer – is it time to ask
* Do not forget OH&S – it
matters and an unsafe workplace may justify industrial action.
* Contracting approach - if planning
future projects, work through risk allocation carefully, do your
due diligence and look to your contract structure – are there
options which will drive more collaborative or cooperative
* Compliance and participation –
both the State and Commonwealth have mandatory codes and guidelines
with wide application to public building works and both the
entities procuring and performing those works. The consequences of
non-compliance are significant. Where they apply it's crucial
to get contract and tender terms right, to implement them and to
Click here for more information on the application of the State
and Federal codes to you, recent changes and compliance.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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