The Guardian 23 February, 2005

Goverment failure in Walter debacle

Picketing building workers at three former sites of the bankrupt Walter Construction have saved their jobs and recovered more than $5 million, inspiring confidence that other companies will roll over. All 46 Walter employees on the Parramatta rail project in Sydney's west have negotiated new jobs with Lend Lease that protect their entitlements and have resumed work. Most gained significant wage rises by moving onto the terms of the Lend Lease project agreement.

Dozens of subcontractors have also been paid.

Workers' demands have also been met on projects at the MegaCentre in Auburn and in Chifley Tower.

And 50 others at a luxury apartment project in inner city Zetland are poised to celebrate after an "in principle agreement" with owner Bank of Scotland.

But former Walter employees picketing other former clients warn if their entitlements are not covered by the end of February a Sydney-wide strike on all building sites is on the cards.

Delegates from the Construction Division of the CFMEU voted for the strike plan at a meeting last week.

Walter's largest employer was the NSW government, with seven projects on which thousands of workers are owed tens of millions of dollars in pay and entitlements.

The union's NSW Secretary Andrew Ferguson says the state government should have conducted a proper investigation of Walter's financial viability and exposed the true financial position.

"The failure of Walter is as much about government responsibility as corporate collapse", Mr Ferguson pointed out.

"Workers and subcontractors were lured to these projects because they thought ... there was no chance of a government builder going bust."

The government sites still holding out on workers are Wyong and Gosford Hospitals on the NSW central coast and three Sydney Water sewerage treatment plant projects.

Long-term plan

The CFMEU is calling on the Federal Government to create a scheme that guarantees 100 percent of employee entitlements when a company goes bust. The current GEERS scheme is discretionary, it does not bind the Government to paying any entitlements, and if it does then it is only at basic award rates.

The scheme is capped at eight weeks redundancy, is often very delayed and does not cover unpaid superannuation. The employees of subcontractors to failed companies also have no rights under the scheme.

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