The ACTU will today submit a complaint to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) that the Howard Government plans to curtail the basic labour freedoms of Australia’s building and construction workers.

At the ILO in Geneva today, ACTU President Sharan Burrow said:

“The Howard Government is proposing a new law that would infringe on the basic freedoms of Australian workers by seriously restricting the ability of building workers to bargain collectively for improvements to wages and conditions.”

“The ACTU is seeking a determination from the ILO as to whether the proposed law is in contravention of Australia’s international human rights obligations.”

“The ILO was established by the United Nations and oversees human rights and international agreements as they concern labour and industrial issues.”

“The Howard Government’s ‘Building and Construction Industry Improvement Bill’ has an Orwellian title.”

“The Bill is misleadingly named as it will not ‘improve’ the industry but allow governments to interfere in the relationship between employees and employers as they bargain over wages and conditions.”

“The Bill proposes to reduce industrial action to a ‘window’ of only 14 days but this is likely to lead to more intense and disruptive industrial action rather than less.”

“For example, under the new draconian proposals, a simple event such as a site information meeting among employees would automatically trigger the 14 day ‘window’ and workers would then be forced into a strike situation when they were not seeking any such conflict.”

“This is another example of the Howard Government’s adversarial approach to industrial relations that is poorly thought-through.”

“It unnecessarily inflames the bargaining process between workers and employers and will add to inefficiencies and disruptions for industry.”

“The proposal could eventually flow on to other workers and have widespread negative effects on Australia’s industrial relations system as whole.”

“Building and construction is one of the most dangerous and difficult industries for people to work in and this Bill will curtail the capacity for workers to stop work in unsafe situations.”

“The Bill also contradicts the Howard Government’s recent agreement with the United States over ‘free trade’ which includes a provision for each side to respect labour rights.”

“The Senate Inquiry into the ‘Building and Construction Industry Improvement Bill’ is holding a public hearing in Adelaide today, 18 March.”