A national construction industry forum will be established seeking to overhaul the male-dominated and high-stress culture of the sector.
Consultation will also immediately begin on a raft of changes to the Fair Work Act – including to remove “unnecessary limitations” on multi-employer bargaining and stripping back the prescriptive requirements of the better off overall test.
The pair of initiatives were the key short-term outcomes of a two-hour session focusing on industrial relations at the Albanese Government’s Jobs and Skills Summit.
Multiple delegates – including Australian Constructors Association CEO Jon Davies and Electrical Trades Union secretary Mike Wright – spoke of the need for sweeping reforming on the nation’s building sites.
Mr Davies said construction firms operated “on the slimmest of margins” and accounted for a quarter of all business insolvencies, contributing to the fact tradies were six times more likely to die by suicide than from a workplace accident.
“We also need to address the other issues that are slowly killing our industry,” Mr Davies said.
“Of critical importance is the need to improve the culture of our industry. It’s simply not good enough.
“Women make up only 12 per cent of our workforce, and that number dwindles to single digits when we’re talking about trades.”
Mr Wright echoed that sentiment, urging a much greater focus be placed on attracting females to electrical trades – where they currently comprise around 2 per cent of all tradies for an industry chronically short of staff.
In an apparently pre-scripted moment, Mr Wright called for a national construction industry forum to “drive the cultural change we so desperately need”.
ACT Senator David Pocock immediately backed the plan, nominating Australian Human Rights Commission Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins to “spearhead” the forum.
At the conclusion of the session, Employment and Workplace Relations Tony Burke confirmed the Albanese Government would “start the work now” to establish the event which would “constructively address issues such as mental health, safety, training, apprentices, productivity, culture, diversity and gender equity in that industry”.
Proposals to simplify industrial relations laws for both employers and workers has dominated the days leading up to the summit, with the ACTU striking high-level deals with both the Business Council of Australia and Council of Small Business Organisations Australia prior to the event.
Mr Burke said further consultation would begin as soon as Monday to start crafting potential legislative changes to the Fair Work Act to enact those reforms.
“First of all, providing stronger access to flexible working arrangements and unpaid parental leave, so modern families can share work in carrying responsibilities,” Mr Burke said.
“Next, ensuring workers and businesses have flexible options for reaching agreements, including removing unnecessary limitations on access to single and multi-employer agreements.
“Removing unnecessary complexity for workers and employers, including making the better off overall test simple, flexible and fair.”
He also flagged ending the current practice of allowing employers to unilaterally apply to the Fair Work Commission to terminate agreements in the event of stalled negotiations, which potentially forces workers at the company in question onto minimum award rates.
During IR debate, Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox urged “sensible reform, not radical change” – and labelled easier access to multi-employer bargaining “risky” because of the potential for widespread strikes.