The Guardian March 15, 2000


Victorian construction lockout:
Cracks in company unity

Major divisions have appeared in the ranks of Victorian construction 
companies, headed by the Master Builders' Association (MBA), which have 
threatened to close down 1000 building sites for three months if 
construction workers continue with selective work bans in their two-month 
long campaign for a reduced working week and increased pay.

Eleven major construction companies, including Multiplex, Grollo, Bovis-
Lend Lease, Probuild and Walter constructions have all agreed to the union 
demands, and will not be closing their building sites. The Construction, 
Forestry and Mining Engineers Union (CFMEU) says that a total of some 400 
building firms have now signed agreements for a 36-hour week and an interim 
6 per cent rise in pay for their employees, pending an industry-wide 
agreement. 

In addition, the Executive Director of the Property Council of Victoria has 
described the lockout action as regrettable, and associations representing 
plumbing and electrical contracting firms have stated that they will not be 
cooperating with the lockout. Even the Federal Government has distanced 
itself, claiming that it is a matter for the State Government to resolve. 
The Victorian Government for its part has refused to intervene in the 
dispute, prompting howls of outrage from some quarters that it was (horror 
of horrors) supporting the unions in the dispute.

The MBA itself has admitted that the lockout threat was intended to put 
pressure on the Industrial Relations Commission to end the bargaining 
period between building workers and construction companies.

The MBA, with the support of the Victorian Employers Chamber of Commerce, 
has established a fighting fund of some $1 million to support the lockout. 
However, this is dwarfed by the amount the construction companies stand to 
lose if the lockout goes ahead. One estimate is that the cessation of work 
would cost builders some $13 million per day.

When push comes to shove

The MBA has claimed that some of their clients may waive any contractual 
penalties for non-completion of projects on time should a lockout 
eventuate. However, it is highly debatable whether this would prove to be 
the case if push came to shove. The client companies stand to lose heavily 
if the lockout results in prolongation of contract periods, and they have 
nothing to gain by keeping the lid on workers demands on wages and 
conditions.

Building workers were unimpressed by the MBA's announcement of the site 
lockouts. Electrical workers immediately organised a blockade of the MBA 
office in Melbourne, from which the indignant managers of the organisation 
eventually had to be rescued by the police.

The Union declared that it will continue the campaign and will not be 
intimidated by the MBA action.

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